Ian Holcomb, Beth Fowler, and Brad Bradley
in Ernest in Love
(© Carol Rosegg)
Ian Holcomb, Beth Fowler, and Brad Bradley
in Ernest in Love
(© Carol Rosegg)
Oscar Wilde's epigrammatic wit is matched perfectly by Lee Pockriss' frothy music and Anne Croswell's clever lyrics in Ernest in Love, a 1960 musical adaptation of Wilde's classic The Importance of Being Earnest that is being given a delightful revival at Irish Repertory Theatre.

Croswell, who also provides the book for the piece, retains vast portions of the original script in this musical about two men, Jack Worthing (Noah Racey) and Algernon Moncrieff (Ian Holcomb), who have invented fictional acquaintances so that they might slip away from societal duties for personal adventures at will. Jack uses his so that he has the ability to slip away from his country estate, where he lives with his ward Cecily (Katie Fabel), to woo the woman he loves, Gwendolyn (Annika Boras). Algernon's "Mr. Bunbury" allows him to escape to the country to pursue his lust for life --- and the fairer sex in general -- at will. When Algernon learns of Cecily's beauty, he heads off to the country to experience it for himself, and is followed by Gwendolyn, to whom Jack's proposed, and ultimately her mother, the imperious Lady Bracknell (Beth Fowler).

Director Charlotte Moore and her company are deft not only in delivering Wilde's stinging critique of Victorian morals and social posturing shines to hysterical effect but also in bringing Pockriss and Croswell's songs to life with grace and equally funny aplomb. Racey is a delight as Jack. He captures not only the character's impetuousness, but also his somewhat goofy air, with ease. Additionally as he executes Barry McNabb's choreography, Racey once again proves himself to be a worthy and charming heir to the legacy of Fred Astaire.

As Algernon, Holcomb cuts a fine figure, but is more swishy than effete, undermining not only the character but also his scenes with Cecily, whom Fabel renders with perfection. She brings not only the character's youthful naïveté to life with grace, but also her simple yet perfect breeding and vanity. All of these traits clash marvelously when Cecily and Gwendolyn (played with equal parts chilly reserve and deep passion by Boras) square off when they believe that they've become engaged to the same man.

As fine as these performances are, the true star of the evening is Fowler as Lady Bracknell. The character is described as being a gorgon, and the actress can bring to mind one of these vicious mythical creatures whenever her fiery glare rests on her daughter or more often than not, the man whom her daughter loves. Fowler spits out some of Wilde's most cutting remarks with venomous and hilarious flair. And when Fowler delivers the furious patter song, "A Handbag is Not a Proper Mother," which references Jack's dubious origins, the musical reaches heights of divine silliness.

The piece is ably supported by James Morgan's spare, elegant scenic design and Linda Fisher's colorful period costumes.Supporting performances from Peter Maloney as a vapid cleric, as well as Brad Bradley and Kerry Conte as various servants, add immensely to the merriment of this musical confection.