One probably can’t go far wrong with an adaptation of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and the operetta, Earnest,The Importance of Being by Victor Davies and Eugene Benson doesn’t. In fact it doesn’t go far from Wilde at all following the plot of the original faithfully and containing all the well known lines. It means too, of course, that it has the flaws as well as the virtues of the original. The first act can drag a bit as Wilde gets a bit too clever but t builds to a very effective second half which flies by. The duet for the girls, To Speak With Perfect Candour is probably the best number in the piece. Davies’ music too does not try to be too portentous. It’s a bit of a pot pourri of styles with, at least, big band music, classical operetta, popular song of the period and what seems to be a nod to Andrew Lloyd-Webber. It’s perfectly consistent with the text. I don’t think though that there’s a single number that one would call truly hummable.
Guillermo Silva-Marin’s production for Toronto Operetta Theatre is quite straightforward with period costumes and sets and no surprises. It looks fine and provides a traditional framework for some very decent performances. Jean Stilwell, Lady Bracknell of course, headlined in pre-production publicity. It was a more nuanced reading than Edith Evans, perhaps even too subdued in the first act but coming alive after the interval with a fine performance of her one big number Few Girls Today. The quartet of lovers were consistently excellent. Cameron McPhail (Jack Worthing) sang particularly well and showed the acting chops we know he has. Thomas Macleay was a good foil as Algernon Moncrieff with a strong acting performance and very decent singing. Michelle Garlough’s Gwendolen was a fine balance of the silly and the pompously serious while Charlotte Knight’s ditzier Cecily showed an ability to make fun of herself and the role with its occasional slightly out-of-nowhere coloratura.
The ‘minor’ characters are well done too. I particular liked Sean Curran as Lane, Jack’s manservant, and Greg Finney’s appropriately oily Canon Chasuble. Good work too from Diego Catalá as Merryman and Rosalind McArthur as Miss Prism.
Larry Beckwith conducted a nine piece band and conjured up a remarkably big sound. He also kept things moving along, even through the occasional longeurs in the first act. All in all, this show is a pretty fair example of what Toronto Operetta Theatre does well. You get attractive, talented young singers in a well produced show that isn’t going to challenge anybody’s ideas of the work or the genre. In places it’s funny too. We all need that.
Photo credits: Gary Beechey