BWW Reviews: BEING EARNEST Charming But Not Perfect
Paul Gordon has a distinctive style that has made musicals like "Emma," "Daddy Long Legs," and "Jane Eyre" successful in their smaller regional and short Broadway runs. The composer-lyricist refuses to follow the typical Broadway musical formula and instead uses his music to tell the story. But that style has also made Gordon's shows an acquired taste. Gordon's latest musical, a new take on Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," continues in this line, providing memorable tunes repeated throughout, but never quite gaining its full momentum and suffering from a relaxed, unfinished feeling.
The framing of the 1960's-set production lacks consistency, although leading man Euan Morton makes a charming semi-narrator in the opening prologue, and the second act opens with actors reciting a cute collection of Wilde witticisms. Characters need fleshing out, at least in their mannerisms, to make the change in time-period more believable. The 60's style music kicks back too often, resulting in a lack of energy throughout, but at no fault of the talented cast. And the staging does not take full advantage of Wilde's comic genius.
But the musical does have its exciting moments. It's two hours of pure fun, and the rebellion and changes of the 60s fits Wilde's story surprisingly well. Partnering with composer Jay Gruska, Gordon keeps most of Wilde's original script, a choice sure to make the purists happy. The two creators flawlessly integrate their catchy tunes with Wilde's script, particularly in the hilarious second act sparring song, "Old." Gwendolen (a sophisticated Mindy Lym) and Cecily (the sweet Riley Krull), thinking they are engaged to the same man, send negative thoughts toward each other through forced smiles in one of the show's best moments. Algernon (Euan Morton) and Jack (Hayden Tee), the two pretenders taking on the name "Earnest" for their own romantic reasons, also lift audience spirits during the multiple renditions of "Brothers."
Maureen McVerry makes a glamorous Lady Bracknell, Algernon's aunt and Gwendolen's protective mother, but McVerry lacks any solid stern character to make her stand out from the others. Diana Torres Koss and Brian Herndon play the love-budding Miss Prism and Reverend Chasuble, but Gordon and director Robert Kelley skip through the couple's golden comic moments too quickly.
The company rocks out in Fumiko Bielefeldt's inventive costumes, which sometimes outshine the cast's vocal perfections. Joe Ragey's lovely scenic design matches the bright costume design with charm, something the production possesses plenty of, despite its unfinished feeling. Theatreworks' "Being Earnest" has potential that will hopefully be developed over the coming years. In the mean while, it makes for a good time, especially for fans of the original play.
Through April 28