Reviewed by Judy Richter
Oscar Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest" has amused audiences with its wit and satire on English society, romance and human foibles since 1895. Now it is the basis for a world premiere musical, "Being Earnest," presented by TheatreWorks.
Composers Paul Gordon and Jay Gruska have updated the setting to 1965, a time perfectly captured by Fumiko Bielefeldt's costume designs, which are inspired by Carnaby Street denizens. Unfortunately, the costumes are more appropriate to the times than the music. While the Beatles and other such groups were dominating pop charts with bouncy, hummable tunes, Gordon and Gruska's score seems bland and repetitious.
Thanks to a topnotch cast and Robert Kelley's direction, however, the show still has entertainment value. It also benefits enormously from Wilde's words, which Gordon has incorporated into his book and some of the lyrics.
The plot focuses on two young English gentlemen, Algernon Moncrieff (Euan Morton) and Jack Worthing (Hayden Tee), who resort to deception to woo the young women to which they're attracted. Algernon pursues Cecily Cardew (Riley Krull), who is Jack's ward, while Jack is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Mindy Lym), Algernon's cousin. One of the obstacles they face is Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell (Maureen McVerry), who's very concerned about being proper and maintaining her social status.
Completing the cast are Diana Torres Koss as Miss Prism, Cecily's tutor; and Brian Herndon as three male characters.
All of the performers are fine singers, but Morton's unflappable Algernon and McVerry's Lady Bracknell are especially noteworthy. A mainstay of Bay Area theater, McVerry also may be familiar to Peninsulans because of her musical theater work with middle school students.
Another reason why she is a standout is that Bielefeldt has given her some gorgeous costumes, especially her outfit in the final scenes. Bielefeldt has also given a show-stopper outfit to Lym, who appears in a Mary Quant-inspired ensemble in the second act. Both Lym and Krull sport the go-go boots so popular at that time.
Musical director William Liberatore conducts four other musicians from the pit. The flexible set is by Joe Ragey with lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt. The sound design by Jeff Mockus is sometimes too loud. It was plagued by some microphone pops at the reviewed performance.
Gordon successfully turned "Emma" and "Jane Eyre" into award-winning musicals, but with "Being Earnest," the costumes are more memorable than the music.