Friday, January 14, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest @ American Airlines Theatre

In the new era of Broadway, where everything is high tech with flying, fancy lights, and projections, The Importance of Being Earnest is a refreshing look back at the old time styles of the Great White Way.  Oscar Wilde’s classic tale of “who’s who” comes to life with breathtaking acting and scenic design in this latest Roundabout Theatre Company production. 

The Importance of Being Earnest shines on Broadway where it is currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre.The Importance of Being Earnest tells the witty tale of two upper class men, Algernon (played by Santino Fontana) and John (played by David Furr), who like to lead double lives.  Before long, both men are pretending to a man named Earnest so that they can escape their normal lives and pursue the loves of their lives.  These woman, Gwendolen (played by Sara Topham) and Cecily (played by Charlotte Parry), quickly learn that their fianc├ęs are not who they appear to be.  Add in an over protective mother (played by Brian Bedford), a teacher with a huge secret (played by Dana Ivey), and a womanizing reverend (played by Paxton Whitehead) and you get a hilarious night of good, old fashioned, humor.

The entire company of The Importance of Being Earnest works extremely well together to bring this classic tale to life.  A stand out in this ensemble was Santino Fontana (seen on Broadway in Sunday in the Park with George and Billy Elliot) playing the role of the flamboyantly clever Algernon Moncrieff.  Fontana delivered a strong performance that was truly funny; he took the time to find the humor in each and every single line.  Fontana was constanly reacting to every element on stage, had great comedic timing, and was making faces that had the audience in stitches before he even said the punch line.  Fontana’s brilliant performance will not soon be forgotten.  Playing opposite Fontana was David Furr (seen on Broadway and tour in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) playing the role of the uptight John Worthing.  Furr had moments of stiffness and over tension where he appeared to be pushing for a laugh or emotion; however, he does pull it together to deliver a great performance.  Both Fontana and Furr worked extremely well with each other.  Their many scenes together were dynamic and funny, and moved the play along with wonderful ease.  Playing alongside these two men, were the hilarious Sara Topham (making her Broadway debut) as the overly proper Gwendolen Fairfax and Charlotte Parry (seen on Broadway in Coram Boy) as the love struck Cecily Cardew.  These two women had a wonderful radiance on stage and were extremely fun to watch.  Their scenes together delivered that spot on humor that Oscar Wilde is known for.  The supporting cast was superb as well.  Dana Ivey (a Broadway vet who has also been seen in the hit movies Legally Blonde 2 and The Addams Family) plays the secretive Miss Prism and Paxton Whitehead (a veteran of the stage and seen in such television shows as Desperate Housewives and Ellen) plays the lustful Rev. Canon Chasuble.  These two work seamlessly with one another to portray a hysterical look that shows that no matter old people may be, they still do crazy things when they are in love.  Brian Bedford (who also serves as the director of this production) delivers an elegant performance as the over-protective Lady Bracknell.  There were moments throughout the production where Bradford was focusing strictly on acting like a woman; these stresses on dialect often made it hard to fully understand what he was saying.  However, with great poise and wit, Bedford delivers a funny performance.  The Importance of Being Earnest is truly an ensemble piece that was wonderfully fulfilled with this Broadway revival cast.

The Importance of Being Earnest had stunning technical elements to it.  Oscar Wilde’s clever script was brought to life by director Brian Bedford.  The thought of having a featured role in the same production that you are directing may sound daunting, but Bedford pulls it off with style and ease.  There were some moments in Act I where the direction did go a bit south and the use of an outside director could have come in handy; however, these moments were quickly forgotten with the easeful flow and grace of Act II and Act III.  The entire production was brought out even further with the amazing scenic and costume design by Desmond Heeley.  The beauty of the scenic design started before the show even began with the gorgeous curtain.  Hand painted pictures of royalty and upper class symbols designed with bold colors and streaks of gold, the curtain set the mood perfectly for the entire night of theatre.  The set was designed to look like a portrait.  Every element appeared to be hand painted with precise precision and care.  This stunning background of pastels allowed the costume design to truly shine.  The use bright colors, vibrant reds and greens and stunning whites, allowed each character to pop out of the designed portrait and come to life.  These elements were expanded even further with an elegant lighting design by Duane Schuler.  With bold artistic choices, like having a room brighten every time Lady Bracknell enters a room, gave this comedy the true beauty that it needed.

Roundabout Theatre Company’s new production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a stunning piece of theatre.  With witty and clever dialogue, spot on acting, and a stunning design, The Importance of Being Earnest is a refreshing reminder of how simple can sometimes be better.  Who needs flying superheroes and state of the art projections when there is a wonderful story?  The Importance of Being Earnest plays at the American Airlines Theatre through March 6, 2011.

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti


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