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'Enchanted April' musical at Firehouse Arts Center at 2 p.m. today

Story about love in Italy in 1920s here through May 8

"Enchanted April," a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim published in the early 1920s, now has been reborn as a musical -- and Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre is presenting the premier at the Firehouse Arts Center at 2 p.m. today.

The show goes back to a small notice that appeared in the London Times in February 1922:

"To those who appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine: To let for the month of April -- a medieval castle on the Italian Mediterranean shore."

The ad proved irresistible for four very different women, who took the chance to escape their everyday lives and the dreary post-war winter.

Their experience unfolds in "Enchanted April," a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim published in the early 1920s, which now has been reborn as a musical -- and Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre is presenting the premiere at the Firehouse Arts Center.

"Can the region support a world premiere?" asked co-artistic director David Judson, an equity actor who plays the role of Briggs, who owns the castle. "The interest is incredible. Six or seven critics are coming to the show. It definitely has the potential to go to Broadway."

After being a successful book, movie and play, "Enchanted April" was commissioned as a musical by Palo Alto's West Bay Opera, with script and lyrics by Charles Leipart and musical score and orchestration by Richard B. Evans. The result was work-shopped at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with Broadway actors.

"The official workshop was like a glorified stage reading and used minimalist sets," Judson said. "They did use costumes ... It was in front of an audience but wasn't actually the full musical."

Judson meanwhile had met Evans at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco and read the script.

"We workshopped some of his material at a benefit over the summer, and he said, 'David, we want you to do this,'" recalled Judson.

Leipart and Evans have been working with the creative team of the Pleasanton production throughout the entire process and making adjustments to the show. For example, they added a new song at the beginning.

"It took three to four months to cast the show," Judson said. "We had somebody fly from Canada to audition, and we received video submissions from throughout the country."

Veteran actor David Bryant, who was the original Marius in "Les Miserables" on Broadway, will play the role of Frederick in "Enchanted April."

"To me as a pro, it's a huge honor to be sharing the stage with someone of his caliber," Judson said. "We are transitioning from being a regional, small company to professional theater now. We actually have five equity actors in the show, the largest number we've had."

Judson, who lives in Pleasanton with his wife and three children and teaches drama at Castro Valley High, is pleased that two of the cast are from Pleasanton: Josselyn O'Neil (Angela) and Andrew Mondello (Beppo). Pacific Coast productions also employ Pleasanton teens on the crew.

"We have to remain cognizant of our roots and our purpose to serve the region with professional-level entertainment," Judson said. "There are excellent budding regional talents."

Broadway veteran director/actress/choreographer Lois Grandi is again teaming with Music Director Pat Parr for the production.

"Enchanted April" has been made into a film twice, and the 1992 version starring Miranda Richardson received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Joan Plowright. The Broadway stage play starred Molly Ringwald and Elizabeth Ashley, and earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 2000.

The story is about what happens in Italy in the 1920s when life and love are about to bloom for the four London women: Rose, neglected by her husband and hiding a secret desire; Lottie, full of life and a mischievous streak; Lady Caroline, a stunningly beautiful but jaded debutante; and Mrs. Fisher, a widow who believes her glory days are all behind her.

These ladies' magical month on the Mediterranean awakens them to a world of beauty, and things begin to get lively when their husbands and lovers begin to arrive. The show features a quartet that sings and narrates throughout.

Judson extols the ambitious sets in "Enchanted April."

"The designs are stunning, with a two-level set. There are turntables involved," he said, pleased with Pacific Coast's progress since it was appointed the resident musical theater company at the Firehouse Arts Center in 2011. "As we continue to grow, the sky is the limit as far as what we can produce here."

'Enchanted' world premiere

What: "Enchanted April," new musical based on '20s tale

Who: Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 8.

Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave.

Tickets: $18-$39. Go to www.firehousearts.org, call 931-4848 or purchase at the theater box office.

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