Ernest in Love
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
March 22, 2007
Being a huge Oscar Wilde fan, I didn't know whether a musicalization of his witty 1895 play The Importance of Being Ernest would work, but I had to find out. Musicals Tonight!'s production of Ernest in Love, with book and lyrics by Anne Croswell and music by Lee Pockriss, is an absolute delight.
The performers across the board do wonderful work here, and I hesitate to even give any special mentions. Actors who spend shorter amounts onstage deliver just as much punch as those with more time.
The story revolves around two fellows, Algernon and Jack, who have told their lady loves that their names are actually Ernest. Jack wishes to marry Gwendolyn, but her guardian Lady Bracknell is not too fond of Jack's lack of breeding. She is so not fond of it, in fact, that she is compelled to sing the song "A Handbag is Not a Proper Mother," a song hilarious in concept, execution, and performance.
For what it's worth, the first half of the show felt a bit slow in delivery, but picked up toward the second half, though this might just be a facet of it being early in the play's run.
Oscar Wilde is a fellow known for his wit and quotable bon mots, and this play is chock full: Among them: "The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If I ever get married, I will simply try to forget it"; "To be in society is such a bore. To be out of it is simply a tragedy"; "Scandals used to lend charm to a man; now, they crush him"; and, when Lady Bracknell is told that Jack is a smoker, "I'm glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation. There are far too many idle men in London as it is."
While a lesser lyricist might find it intimidating to match the incomparable Wilde, Croswell does a remarkable job. Her lyrics are full of surprises and she is able to convey grand concepts in tightly formed phrases. I could not move my pen fast enough so some of these are paraphrases: "How could we ever hope to capture / A synonym for rapture / For words are quite inopportune / When one is reaching for the moon"; "To love a rake / Is quite the norm / They love to make / The rake reform"; "When you kiss a man in a ladylike way / You just can't put your soul in it / I guess a girl must be born in the hay / To know just how to roll in it."
This show is an absolute treat, and my favorite thing I've seen in a while.