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.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s enhanced, lively production of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver! ‘kicks this classic up a notch

It was a nostalgic night witnessing Company Theatre’s livelier version of Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! having performed in the musical production in high school.  While my part was limited to selling roses on a busy London street, the Company Theatre opened up an entire world for the holidays with enhanced flair for Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16 at The Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The production has recently sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre and their future productions.

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman and musically directed by Steve Bass with choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest, Lionel Bart’s Oliver!  is the latest version of this Charles Dickens’ classic.  This family production has enjoyed several tours and revivals in different parts of the world in its close to 60-year history.

It’s is the tale of a workhouse orphan who get entangled in a series of unfortunate events that lead him to face many adversaries, but stays strong in his search for hope and love.  With a large cast featuring memorable numbers such as Consider Yourself, As Long as He Needs Me, I’d Do Anything, and the title song, Oliver, this tale has its share of dark and humorous moments while delivering an important message about humanity that is especially relevant during the holidays.

Company Theatre's Oliver

Matthew O’Connor as Oliver Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

During the holiday season, the Company Theatre tends to make whichever production they have chosen bigger and more spectacular in line with the spirit of the season.  Lionel Bart’s Oliver! stays consistent with that tradition featuring extended, more upbeat musical numbers, grander sets,  and sharper choreography, especially during the sweeping numbers and quicker pacing of Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself.

From the humble, stone-lined workhouse surroundings with a single banner that reads, ‘God is Love’ to a bright street setting, Ryan Barrow’s impressive, rolling set design details the diversity of 1840’s London.  Set pieces dropping from the ceiling was a particular highlight.

The musical’s classic line, ‘I want some more’ has never sounded more humble than from the adorable countenance of Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, a sweet, naïve, but daring workhouse orphan boy who, by uncontrollable circumstances, has an opportunity to see life beyond the workhouse walls.  He shares some amusing camaraderie with Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger, portrayed with a thick, regional accent and a charismatic grin.  They stay in time with the children’s ensemble’s compelling choreography, an energetic bunch light on their feet during some of the production’s most challenging numbers.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Sowerberrys

The Sowerberrys Christopher Spencer as Mr Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as Mrs. Sowerberry Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry are wonderfully wicked together.  With a nasal voice and prominent sideburns, Christopher Spencer is quite comical as dour Mr. Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as stern and maybe a bit tipsy Mrs. Sowerberry.  With a prominent stance and a great voice, Francis Sheehan takes on the gruffly bombastic parish beadle Mr. Bumble.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Oliver Fagin and Artful Dodger

Colin Paduck as The Artful Dodger, Christopher Hagberg as Fagin, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver and the children’s ensemble Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

With a white beard, black hat, and flowing overcoat, Christopher Hagberg delivers a limber, stealthy performance as Fagin.  Hagberg captures the magic of Fagin, his deceptively good nature and comic greediness put on display in the number, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two and the fiddle-infused Reviewing the Situation.

Company Theatre's Oliver- Nancy, Oliver, Bet, and Artful Dodger

Brittany Rolfs as Nancy, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, Aliyah Harris as Bet, and Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

Brittany Rolfs brings sass and saavy to the role of Nancy, a sweet but tough woman who has mixed with the wrong crowd.  From her passionate, tenacious version of As Long as She Needs Me to the catchy harmony of the playful, rollicking number, Oom-Pah-Pah, Nancy is a force of her own onstage, sweet with the children, but always certain of what she wants.

With a deep seated growl and a menacing stare, Damian Smith steps into the role of troubled Bill Sikes.  In this production, The Company Theatre brings a new dimension and lesser known angle to this character as he stalks the city streets.  Remington is a welcome addition to the cast as scene stealing Bullseye, Bill Sikes’s dog.

The Company Theatre is capping off its 40th season with Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16.  Click here for how to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.

 

VOCES8’s Barnaby Smith talks power of music, music foundation, and long-awaited Boston concert debut

Driven by a Capella inspiration such as The King’s Singers and Manhattan Transfer, dynamic, internationally-renowned vocal group, VOCES8 will make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut following Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall at 8 p.m.  Mastering a variety of music genres, this multi-talented British octet has toured around the world and after the tremendous success of their previous album, Winter, they are now working on a new album.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about his extensive music background, VOCES8 charitable foundation, and their first appearance in Boston, which is a destination that has been on their bucket list for a long time.  Click here for more information and for tickets to their upcoming Celebrity Series of Boston debut.

Jeanne Denizard:  You are known for your work in Choral, Baroque, Classical, and film genres.  What first attracted you to music and what led you to pursue a music career?

Barnaby Smith:  I started singing at age 3 because my parents used to run an amateur music group. We did concerts once a month up in the rural North of England. Despite crying from the beginning to end of my debut solo at just age 4, I went on to love making music.  So my parents sent me for an audition to be a Chorister at Westminster Abbey.  I passed, and left home to sing in the Abbey choir at age 8 and never looked back.  The choirboys are aged 8 to 13.  We used to sing 4 hours a day 6 days a week, and by the time you have done this for 5 years, I think singing is in your bones. It was an incredible opportunity at such a young age and instilled a sense of such great enjoyment that I never wanted to stop.

JD:  Were you always interested in those specific genres or was it another music genre that first grabbed your attention? 

BS:  There is something special about experiencing the sound of the human voice live in the room, and that is what has always grabbed me about choral music. When someone sings to you, you get a sense that you connect with them on a very deep level, like they are sharing something very personal with you.  You can really see deep into their soul. If you then consider that choral music uses multiple singers and that these singers work together to create beautiful harmony as well, then I can’t imagine ever enjoying anything else more. I feel so grateful to be able to take part in such an activity as my job.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  VOCES 8 can be heard regularly on the radio and also involved with the charitable music foundation, VOCES Cantabiles Music.  Please tell me about that.

BS:  When we founded the group in 2003, we wanted to sing concerts, but we also felt so fortunate for the upbringing in music that we had been afforded, we wanted to give something back. For this reason we also formed our own charitable trust called the VCM Foundation. We made it our mission to get as many young people singing as possible. If children are encouraged to use their voices, it inspires inner confidence to be heard and communicate. Music is also a wonderful thing for young people to experience and will help them appreciate the world around them.

Since we began our work, we have spent a decade researching and writing The VOCES8 Method, a set of musical games and exercises that are designed to work the brain in a way that will help children to develop their linguistics and numeracy skills.  The method is also designed so it is broadly applicable in a class of 6 or group of 600. We preach this method everywhere we go because everyone has a voice and it is free to use your voice, so all children should be encouraged to get involved, experiencing music, and get creative. The VOCES8 Method book is published by Edition Peters and since its publication, has been experienced by over 500,000 children across three continents.

We are also now fortunate to run a centre of singing excellence in a beautiful church built by Sir Christopher Wren who also built St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Our centre is called the Gresham Centre and our Foundation is based there. It is in the heart of London and we always encourage any choirs visiting London to get in touch with us in the hope that we can extend them an invite to discover the incurable acoustic of the building and meet and sing with us.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston.