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Light and Delightful: Earnest or What’s in a Name?

By George Linkletter, Citizen News


TheatreWorks New Milford is to be commended for hosting the world premiere of the delightful musical comedy Earnest or What’s in a Name?  The two-act play is an original and extremely entertaining adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ -- and is presented in the distinctive, light style of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Book, lyrics, and music are all by Leonard Diamond, a heretofore unknown but multi-talented New Milford resident.

The play is set in strait-laced Victoria England, circa 1895, and is triggered by the dissolution of the world-famous theatrical team of Gilbert and Sullivan.  With the famous partnership apparently over for good, composer Arthur Sullivan is in search of a new librettist.  He quickly settles on Mr. Wilde, who had just completed an extraordinary new play that seemed the ideal piece to set to music: ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ 

The ‘what if’ here is intriguing: what if Gilbert and Sullivan hadn’t reconciled, and instead Wilde and Sullivan had collaborated on a play that satirized the British upper class in the frothy, Gilbert and Sullivan musical style?  Well, the answer is on stage now at TheatreWorks New Milford.  It is “a lighthearted tuneful romp,” as accurately described by producer Jane Farnol of Gaylordsville, and features notable performances from some of the region’s finest and emerging actors.

Carey Van Hollen (of Danbury) plays Gwendolyn Fairfax, one of the two women engaged to Earnest.  She excels in the role of a superficial, ‘preoccupied-with-appearances’ upper class maiden, and enthralled the audience on opening night with her powerful singing voice.

Both Ian Maitland (New Fairfield) and Becca Myhill (New Milford) are emerging talents.  Mr. Maitland plays Jack Worthing, who is caught in his double life when his engagement to two women is revealed.  He has a stage presence and sense of timing well beyond his years.  Ms. Myhill brings a sense of innocence to her role and is exceptionally vibrant when she verbally spars with Gwendolyn over Ernest, their shared fiancé.

A very pleasant surprise in this production is Fred Rueck (Patterson, NY) who plays the Rev. Chausuble.  Mr. Rueck is an accomplished actor and vocalist who plays his supporting role to perfection. Also notable are Beth Bonnabeau (New Milford), a veteran and actress who may have found her ideal role in Miss Prism.  She is just superb. 

Glenn Couture (Ansonia) is hilarious as the Lady Bracknell. Mr. Couture channels his inner Nathan Lane to bring mock elegance to this role and make it vibrant. This reviewer will never again see Mr. Couture without lipstick and earrings!  The talented David Anctil (Thomaston) portrays a flamboyant Oscar Wilde and serves as pianist for the entire production.

Charles Roth (New Milford) plays Algernon Moncrief as a milquetoast sort of character, and both Frank Arcaro (Roxbury) as Sir Arthur Sullivan and John Bolster (New Milford) as Merriman the Butler are memorable in their roles.

The production crew includes director Laura Gilbert, musical director David Anctil, Richard Pettibone, who designed an innovative circular set, lighting design by Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski, costume design by Susan Aziz, and stage management by Abby Hambidge.

Earnest or What’s in a Name? was a finalist at the 2013 NewYork Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) Awards.  The piece from which the musical was born, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ opened to adoring critics and audiences at the St. James’s Theatre in London on February 14, 1895.

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