REVIEW: Footlight Club’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ clever and comedic fun

It’s the age old question:  “What’s in a name?”  Apparently it makes all the difference in the world in Oscar Wilde’s classic play, The Importance of Being Earnest, a high society romantic farcical comedy written twenty years after The Footlight Club was established in 1877.  Full of adages about life and relationships as well as its fair share of ploys, elaborate scheming, love at first sight, and mistaken identity, The Importance of Being Earnest proves that some things are timeless.

The Footlight Club, the oldest running theatre in the nation, boasts renovations that include new seating and more at Eliot Hall.  Directed by David Marino, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest continues at Eliot Hall in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 15.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

It is amazing to see how far theatre has come over the years.  The Importance of Being Earnest is a lighthearted production told in three acts with each act separated by the drop of the stage curtain.  It is refreshing to see this production in vintage form, especially in a day and age where rolling sets and elevated scenery eliminates the need to close the curtain until intermission.

The Footlight Club The Importance of Being Earnest Michael Jay and Frances Price

Michael Jay as Jack and Frances Price as Lady Bracknell Photo credit to Elizabeth Bean/Footlight Club

Zach Best, David Alger, and Cara Guappone’s elegantly-detailed set, which includes a brass chandelier, seemingly expensive wall hangings, and plush furniture, reflect 1895 London, where high society’s seemingly biggest worries are when to dine, when to have tea, and when to go to the club.  However, even in Audrey Stuck-Girard’s regal costumes, the rich nevertheless have their own relatable issues whether it’s over family, love, and happiness.

What keeps Oscar Wilde’s show so relevant is its witty and hilarious script, showing even the simplest things in life can be the most elusive.  Its comic observations about family, love and society can be scathing, but possess a remarkable ring of truth.

The madcap, clever cast has impressive comic timing, especially Bradley Boucher’s knack for physical humor as Algernon Moncrieff.  Back in 2002, Rupert Everett starred as Algernon Moncrieff at age 43 in the film adaptation joined by a stellar cast that included Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson.  At first glance, Bradley Boutcher looked too young to portray the suave and sardonic Algernon, especially as he spends a great deal of the show making quips about life as only a well-experienced individual can.  However, Boutcher’s smug smile and shrewd comic timing gradually won me over despite some misgivings and he became quite a scene stealer.

Footlight Club The Importance of Being Earnest Elizabeth Loranth as Gwendolyn and Michael Jay as Jack Worthing

Elizabeth Loranth as Gwendolyn and Michael Jay as Jack Worthing Photo credit to Matt McKee/Footlight Club

Boutcher as Moncrieff and Michael Jay as excitable and anxious Jack Worthing share an amusing, competitive camaraderie as they attempt to prove one wiser than the other.  It is fun to see two very different personalities collide over something as trivial as muffins.

In an extravagant feathered hat, Frances Price flourishes as outspoken, society-minded Lady Augusta Bracknell.  Price strikes a delicate balance between well intentioned and intrusive, making distinguished Lady Bracknell likable, even when her lips curve into a judgmental frown.

Kevin Brunton’s droll presence as Lane/Merriman enhances each scene while Gabrielle Jaques as seemingly sweet, wide-eyed Cecily and Elizabeth Loranth as elegant Gwendolyn are fascinating to watch as their characters become increasingly more complicated.  Jennifer Bean as quirky, love struck Miss Prism and Tim Joseph as amiable Reverend Chasuble round out this stellar cast and make Earnest much more than a name, indeed.

Footlight Club The Importance of Being Earnest Jennifer Beam as Miss Prism and Tim Joseph as Reverend Chasuble

Jennifer Bean as Miss Prism and Tim Joseph as Reverend Chasuble Photo credit to Elizabeth Bean/Footlight Club

The Footlight Club presents Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 15.  Click here for more information and tickets to Footlight’s Club final show of the season.

Acclaimed choreographer Tony Williams talks innovative rock ballad, ‘Life: In Color’

David Bowie, Prince, and the Rolling Stones are just a few of the innovative artists that made a profound impact on rock and roll.  Paying tribute to some of the biggest rock and roll talent through ballet, Tony Williams Ballet Company presents rock ballad, Life: In Color, which explores memorable music over the past 60 years on Thursday, May 25 and Thursday, May 26.  Performances will be held at the Oberon Theatre, conveniently located in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Tony Williams, acclaimed choreographer and creator of the Tony Williams Ballet Company, talks about his love for dance, nearly meeting David Bowie, and how Life: In Color was born.

Life in Color Tony Williams

Tony Williams Photo courtesy of the Tony Williams Dance Center

Sleeplesscritic:  You are behind the annual Urban Nutcracker, now in its 17th year.  What do you think it is about the Urban Nutcracker that has appealed to audiences for so long?

Tony Williams:  It’s a show about Boston for an audience that wants to see themselves represented onstage.  Our mission is diversity through dance, and there aren’t many shows where an 8 year-old African-American boy can see himself reflected onstage amongst a cast that truly reflects Boston’s multi-cultural community.  While it’s a take on the modern tale of the Nutcracker, it has heart, soul, and a more modern driving force.  We add something new each year.  Whether it’s our LGBT celebration show, a sensory-friendly show for those with autism, or even a selfie stick for our onstage party photo, there is always something fun and unique.  This year we have exciting plans and I can’t wait to share the growth of our Urban Nutcracker show, but we have to keep some elements of surprise.

SC:  What inspired you to become a dancer?  Was there a particular moment where you realized that dance is what you were meant for?

TW:  I was a real jock playing baseball and doing gymnastics.  I never thought about dancing until I was 16 and was always fascinated with classical music. One day I saw a ballet performance at the gym where I worked out and was totally mesmerized by the purple color in the costumes.  Around the same time at the gym, some of the gymnasts said how Russian gymnasts took ballet to improve their skill. I went with one of the gymnasts to the Boston Ballet School and watched him in class. I soon took a class and was hooked, but I stopped after one class because someone said ballet is not for boys. Then, by good fortune, I bumped into one of the dancers that had performed at the gym. I mentioned I saw him dance and tried to become a dancer, but stopped. He encouraged me to continue and here I am more than 50 years later.

SC:  Please tell me about the Tony Williams Dance Center and the Tony Williams Ballet and why you decided to start a dance school.

TW:  I started the Tony Williams Dance Center in 2000. I had been freelancing as a ballet teacher and was traveling all around New England. In order to cut down on travel, I decided to settle down in Boston neighborhood and my hometown, Jamaica Plain.  Things got off to a good start and now the Tony Williams Dance Center is in its 17th year.  My first professional ballet company actually dates back to 1985 when I co-founded Ballet Theatre of Boston with Jose Mateo. From there, I founded the American Concert Ballet (ACB) in 1991. ACB morphed into BalletRox in 1996.  I finally founded my professional dance company, the Tony Williams Ballet, in 2014.

SC:  I was struck by the innovative concept of Tony Williams Ballet’s Life: In Color.  The show infuses 60s rock and jazz into contemporary dance.  Some influences include David Bowie, Prince, and the Rolling Stones.  You’ve said that you felt with the recent deaths of a few of these music legends, now is the time to pay tribute to them.   How did this performance come about from there?

TW:  I was buying a coffee at the City Feed ‘hippie store’ near my studio when I heard Lady Jane by the Rolling Stones.  I hadn’t heard it in quite some time and it brought me back to 60s. I loved that song and was inspired to choreograph to it.

One time, while on a tour with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, we were staying at a hotel in Norfolk, VA.  After we performed one evening, some of my fellow dancers and I had a drink in the hotel lounge. Afterwards, I went up to my room to go to sleep.  The next morning, one of the dancers excitedly told me David Bowie entered the hotel lounge with his band after I went to bed.  He was very friendly and drank with my fellow dancers. Yikes, I really missed out on meeting Bowie!

SC:  What do you think makes this upcoming performance particularly unique?

TW:  These performances will be our first in a 3 – D setting at the Oberon Theatre. It is a night club setting with patrons sitting at tables around an open dance floor with a stage. The dancers perform on the dance floor, stage, bar, the catwalk, and in and amongst the seated patrons!

SC:  What makes you particularly excited about Life:  in Color?  You’ve said this performance is particularly meaningful, an emotional journey.

TW:  The 60s was such an incredible decade. I lived through the Vietnam War as well as the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and Robert Kennedy. I lived in New York City and was swept up in that ‘Flower Power & Love’ decade that arose as a counter balance to so much tragedy. Creating Life:  in Color allows me to reflect nostalgically on those times by using certain rock songs that I love from the 60s and 70s.  Witty and entertaining, the show is anchored around the fabulous poetry of Ken Nordine’s 1966 poetry album called Colors.  The playful poems are accompanied with beautiful jazz music. The poetry spans the myriad personality traits of human beings.

SC:  Life:  in Color features Venezuelan dancer Gianni Di Marco, Stoneham native Janelle Gilchrist, veteran dancer Meghan Gaucher, and Hawaiian native Rick Vigo.  Please tell me about how these choreographers got involved.

TW:  I have been working with these talented artists for a number of years and had planned to choreograph Life:  in Color myself, but realized that I did not have sufficient time to create the 30 plus mini- dances in the performance.  So I allotted approximately six dances to each choreographer.  Our costume designer, Dustin Rennells, assisted me with fleshing out a scenario based on my ideas and has created wild and colorful costumes.

SC:  What do you think is the best reason people should attend Life: in Color?

TW:  It will be lots of fun!  You’ll appreciate the fabulous dancers and the wide variety of types and styles of dance, from classical ballet en pointe to circus art, hip hop, and campy jazz.  We aim to entertain with an original artistic approach that will appeal to everyone, not just balletomanes.

Tony Williams Ballet Company presents rock ballad Life:  In Color Thursday, May 25 and Friday, May 26 at the Oberon Theatre, 2 Arrow Street, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and further information.

One of Tony Williams’s future projects is a new production of the Jungle Book in partnership with the Aparna Sindhoor Navarasa Dance Theater. Follow Tony Williams Dance Center on Facebook for updates and more.