Theatreworks goes mod and musical in 'Being Earnest'

Start with the wit of Oscar Wilde, blend in an Austin Powers palette and an effervescent musical score and you get “Being Earnest,” the exuberant new musical making its world premiere at TheatreWorks in Mountain View.

When “The Importance of Being Earnest” premiered in 1895, London’s The Times reported, “The story is almost too preposterous to go without music.”

Composers, lyricists and adapters Paul Gordon (“Emma,” “Jane Eyre”) and Jay Gruska have done just that, crafting a bright and tuneful confection, seamlessly blending the mod mode of Carnaby Street in the 1960s with the delicious drawing-room repartee of Wilde’s turn of the 20th-century classic.

Director Robert Kelley has assembled the perfect intersection of artists to render the work as a frothy romp that never devolves into camp.

Leading the cast are Euan Morton of Broadway’s “Taboo” and “Sondheim on Sondheim” as Algernon and Hayden Tee as Jack. Morton is a wonderfully wicked imp, a Puck everlasting, who revels in indulgence but never becomes tiresome or, worse, irritating.

Jack emulates Algy, but the terrier of responsibility nips at his trousers. Tee beautifully balances the push-pull of devil-may-care with caring for his ward Cecily and longing to make Gwendolen his bride.

Morton and Tee’s interplay are the heart of the show and their bromance could almost be more interesting than their respective wooing of the women in their lives.

Fortunately, Mindy Lym brings a pretty petulance coupled with fulsome bravado to Gwendolen that is well matched by Riley Krull’s sweet but not quite naïf Cecily.

Ferociously, elegantly funny, Maureen McVerry commands the stage as the ever-practical and completely indomitable Lady Bracknell. Diana Torres Koss is an appropriately addled Miss Prism and the flexible Brian Herndon renders a gallery of characters including Algy’s Gielgud-esque butler, Lane.

The score is a bouncy affair, well sung and instantly ingratiating. Some of the best numbers like “Brothers,” “Age of Ideals” and “Absolutely Perfect” treat the audience with reprises, but the whole score is a welcome melodic journey that plays vigorously but respectfully with the Wilde sensibility.

Fumiko Bielefeldt has assembled a Kodachrome array of costumes that play beautifully with Joe Ragey’s versatile, evocative set pieces. (Algy’s couch is a thing of beauty!)

In short, “Being Earnest” is beautifully plumed bird coming home to roost from the annual TheatreWorks New Works Festival where it was workshopped in 2012. You shouldn’t miss it or the 2013 edition of the festival, opening in August.

Being Earnest

  • Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays- Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes April 28.
  • Tickets: $23 to $73
  • Contact: (650) 463-1960,
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