Could you ever have guessed that a Pride and Prejudice variation could be set in a modern day bakery, that it could be a musical, and that it could be so . . . tasty? That was the pleasant surprise I found when I attended an original production by the Misfit Theater Company in Greenville, South Carolina in October: Pies, prejudice, music, and frequent appearances from Napoleon. Yes, that Napoleon. Trust me, it only got more entertaining from there!
Pies and Prejudice: A Victorian Baking Musical, written by Micah Thompson, opens with Jane, Elizabeth, and Lydia managing a modern-day Mansfield Park Bakery. Jane and Elizabeth get little help from the greedy Lydia, who literally eats her way through the store (and set!), or from their mother, the hilariously hypochondriac Mrs. Bennet. Charles Bingley of Bingley Bakeries arrives at Mansfield Park Bakery with his friend Darcy and before you know it, Darcy and Elizabeth are trading insults as fast as you can say overdone apple fritters. Jane and Bingley, meanwhile, sing about the joy of seeing life through (literal) rose-colored glasses, Caroline Bingley gets in a few digs, and in the middle of all this, several famous historical figures (can you say we had a “Dickens” of a time?) begin to pop up with their own contributions to the story line.
This was a fun, imaginative, and completely unpredictable variation on our favorite story! Rather than give away the whole plot for those of you who might be lucky enough to see it one day, I thought you might like to hear from the author of this organized chaos, Micah Thompson.
You obviously have a love for Jane Austen yourself. Where and when did that start?
Mine, I fear, is not a super original story in terms of Jane Austen. I was exposed early on in my teen years to the Pride and Prejudice mini-series made by PBS.(editor’s note: BBC) . . . It was all downhill from there. When I was a kid I spent every spare penny I or my parents had on books and reading through Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. The whole Jane Austen series are still memories I hold close. As a young teenage boy they were one of the few novels I read that weren’t sci-fi or fantasy but maybe that’s why they stick out to me so clearly, it was a book that was important because of the characters that were in it more so than the action that those characters were involved in.
Pies and Prejudice is a rather unconventional retelling of everyone’s favorite Austen story. What made you think of including characters like Napoleon and Shakespeare?
My mind as a writer is nothing if not an incalculably illogical roller coaster being attacked by a T-rex, but other than my standard answer to questions like this which is sleep deprivation, I will say that all of these characters just seemed to fit in my head. Napoleon especially was in the play from page 1 to me. He was the perfect counterpoint to the Bennet sisters, and a character who just seemed to gel seamlessly with the world I had created. Don’t ask me how he did that, I was as surprised as anyone.
Why did you decide to make it a musical?
Pies and Prejudice was just a play begging to be a musical. The beauty of a musical is that it lets you interact with an audience in a whole different way. A character would never turn to an audience in a play and say, “I’m an optimist and I think you’re an optimist so now we’re in love,” but in a musical, if you’re careful, you can define an entire character in one three minute space. Musicals give characters a chance to grow and change and interact with an audience in a way that a regular play can’t unless you’re willing to take a looooooong time doing it. One of my favorite moments in the whole play is in the final song when Darcy and Elizabeth are acknowledging that they do actually love each other. In a non musical, a scene like that is so hard to make realistic and so hard to get the audience to understand what the characters are feeling but in a musical (if you’ve got the right cast) that all can happen in the space of a few bars of music in a way that’s so moving and tangible to an audience.
Why do you think people love Jane Austen so much?
I think people love Jane Austen because, a lot like Shakespeare, Austen’s characters transcend their own time period and speak to who we are as people. Her characters and ideas and emotions make us realize things about ourselves and sympathize with the characters in the story in such a real way that it doesn’t matter how long ago the story was written or what stage of our lives we’re in. People love Jane Austen because Austen’s stories are about all of us, and the people we want to be.
Is there any chance of you licensing Pies and Prejudice to other theater groups? I’m sure people in other parts of the country would love to see this too!
Now that I fear is a question for minds more business savvy than myself. Pies and Prejudice was written for The Misfit Theater Company, which is still a very young company so a lot of questions like that one are things that we’re just now starting to deal with. I would certainly love for more people to get to share in this experience though, and the idea of giving Jane Austen fans another new way to enjoy Pride and Prejudice is definitely something I would be proud to be a part of!