‘Being Earnest’: Wilde’s great wit is always in style
STONEHAM – Wit and wisdom travel well, and classic farce has staying power and is virtually ageless.
And any show that starts with the wit and wisdom of the great Oscar Wilde is already on third base.
Throw in the funkiness of London’s Carnaby Street and the looks and sounds of the Swinging ’60s and you have the recipe for a delightful musical comedy romp such as the Greater Boston Stage Company’s production of “Being Earnest.”
The adaptation of Wilde’s 1895 comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Paul Gordon, who wrote the book, the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Jay Gruska, takes some liberties with the text and also randomly inserts other Wilde witticisms from other works.
In its style and feel, “Being Earnest” owes something to what those of you old enough to remember will recall as the late 60’s TV show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” albeit with a much more erudite and cultured cast of characters.
And always there are the bon mots of Wilde, and if a few are lost when the enthusiastic band overreaches – well, there’s another one coming along very quickly behind it.
Michael Jennings Mahoney is Algernon Moncrief, completely at home as one of two eligible bachelors who see themselves as accomplished “swordsmen,” each with a pseudonym designed to create chaos and comic confusion.
Dave Heard is completely along for the ride as John Worthing, who shares the same overriding sense of confidence when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex and employs many of the same machinations.
Director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins, the associate artistic director at GBSC, has shown over and over her Midas touch with “small musicals” which concentrate on relationships and have a limited number of characters , and with shows as wildly diverse as last season’s “Dames at Sea” and “She Loves Me.”
Robbins has also established a bit of a musical theater repertory company, especially when it comes to the uber-talented Ephie Aardema (Cecily Cardew), who has visited Stoneham many times and never fails to delight, this time as the woman who upon meeting Algernon/Ernest for the first time reveals to him that they are already engaged.
Sara Coombs, who here serves as dance captain here in addition to playing Gwendolyn Fairfax, a product of high society, also played key roles in last season’s “Dames at Sea” and “She Loves Me.”
Kerry A. Dowling and Will McGarrahan are often the go-to actors when the occasion calls for both musical talent and comic skills, and here they are a perfect matched set as Miss Prism, Cecily’s beleaguered tutor, who has her heart set on McGarrahan’s Reverend Chasuble; McGarrahan also aces the test as Algernon’s housekeeper and John’s groundskeeper.
Wilde’s poking and prodding at the upper crust of Victorian society finds full voice with Beth Gotha as the haughty, imperious Lady Bracknell, for whom breeding and background are incredibly important when it comes to marriage … until they aren’t .
The pop/rock score by Gordon and Gruska makes generous use of Wilde’s own words and will have you thinking 60s right away, with bits, pieces and snippets borrowed from iconic 1960’s rock groups.
The band led by Music Director Steve Bass gives full voice to the score.
Robbins will join in the fun in the production numbers when the characters start shimmying around like contestants from 1960’s dance shows such as “American Bandstand” and “Shindig!”
Gail Astrid Buckley also gets into the spirit with the mini-skirts, boots and other fashion statements of the period.
It’s easy to see the fun the cast is having onstage. And the effect is contagious and spreads to the audience.
Oscar Wilde drew criticism in some quarters because with “Earnest,” he simply chose to entertain theater-goers and make them laugh.
”Being Earnest” has similar goals, and it accomplishes them with great aplomb.
The Greater Boston Stage Company production of “Being Earnest.” Music by Paul Gordon and Jay Gruska. Book and Lyrics by Paul Gordon. From the play “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. Scenic design by Nick Oberstein. Costume design by Gail Astrid Buckley. Lighting design by Jeff Adelberg. Sound design by John Stone. At the Greater Boston Stage Company through Oct. 7. greaterbostonstage.org