Oscar Wilde receives a surprise visit from Arthur Sullivan, who, as it turns out, has just split from his partner Gilbert and is seeking a new venture. Wilde, only too happy to oblige, offers up his unpublished play, The Importance of Being Earnest, and an inspired (fictitious) collaboration is born. What follows is an imagined musical version of one of the most well-loved plays of all time. Featuring a score the real Arthur Sullivan would have been proud to pen himself, Earnest or What’s in a Name? is an exciting and inventive new musical that will leave you wanting more from this partnership that ‘might have been.’
In 1895, the world-famous theatrical team of Gilbert and Sullivan fell apart. The partnership apparently over for good, composer Arthur Sullivan immediately began searching for a new librettist and quickly found Mr. Wilde, who had just completed an extraordinary new play, The Importance of Being Earnest, that seemed the ideal piece to set to music. If Gilbert and Sullivan hadn’t ultimately reconciled, this “what if” scenario of a Wilde-Sullivan collaboration provides audiences with a delightfully charming and frothy musical comedy.
The first scene in Earnest or What’s In a Name? opens with an account of the historic meeting between Sullivan and Wilde. At this meeting, Sullivan asks Wilde if he has any material suitable for a libretto. Wilde hands him his recently drafted The Importance of Being Earnest, and Sullivan, after reading the play’s opening, sits down at the piano and starts to write a melody for the first song (“Anyone Can Play the Piano”).
At that point, the scene dissolves into the opening scene of the “what if” musical that Sullivan might have written for Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
Act I, Scene I
Algernon Moncrieff, an idle young gentleman, receives a visit from his best friend, whom he knows as Earnest Worthing. Earnest arrives from the country intent on proposing to Algernon's cousin, Gwendolen. Algernon refuses consent until Earnest explains why the cigarette case he left in Algernon's apartment bears the inscription, "From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack" (“My Aunt Cecily”).
"Earnest" is thus forced to disclose that he is leading a double life: in the country, he goes by the name of John (or Jack), pretending that he has a wastrel brother named Earnest living in London who frequently requires his attention; he assumes a serious attitude for the benefit of his ward, Cecily, but in the city he assumes the name and behavior of the libertine Earnest. Algernon reveals that he engages in a similar deception: he pretends to have an invalid friend named Bunbury in the country (“Bunbury”).
Lady Bracknell arrives with Gwendolen, her daughter, and invites Algernon to dine with them, but he claims Bunbury is ill requiring his immediate attention. As he distracts Lady Bracknell in another room, Jack prepares to propose to Gwendolen (“Pray, Don’t Talk of the Weather"). Gwendolyn accepts his proposal, but seems to love him only for his professed name of Earnest (“The Only Really Safe Name is Earnest”). However, Lady Bracknell discovers them and interrogates Jack as a suitor (“If Gwendolen You’d Marry”). Horrified to learn that Jack was found in a black handbag, she refuses him and forbids her daughter from seeing him. Gwendolen, however, sneaks back to the house to tell Jack that she will always love him, and asks his address in the country. When Jack gives it to her, Algernon also notes it and resolves to meet his young ward, Cecily.
Act I, Scene 2
The scene opens in Jack’s house in the country, where his ward, Cecily Cardew, lives with her governess Miss Prism. The Reverend Chausable appears and takes Miss Prism on a walk (“Will You Walk With Me?”).
Algernon arrives, pretending to be Earnest Worthing. He easily charms Cecily Cardew (“If I'm a Better Man to Be”). The young couple lose no time in becoming engaged, for Cecily also admits the name Earnest has always fascinated her. They exit.
Jack, meanwhile, has decided to put his false life as Earnest behind him. He arrives at his country house in full mourning, announcing Earnest's death in Paris to Miss Prism and Reverend Chausable (“The Death of Earnest”). At that point, Algernon and Cecily return, resulting in a clash between Jack and Algernon (“Take His Hand”).
Act II, Scene 1
Cecily, Chausable, and Miss Prism attempt to effectuate a reconciliation between the two friends (“A Sad Tale”). All except Cecily go off together. Gwendolen then arrives, having fled London and her mother to be with her love, Earnest (Jack). She and Cecily meet in the temporary absence of the two men, and each indignantly insists that she is the one engaged to "Earnest" (“Sisters”). When Jack and Algernon reappear, their identities are exposed. The men explain themselves and admit their deceptions (“Earnest Isn’t Earnest Anymore”). Lady Bracknell arrives in pursuit of her daughter and is surprised to learn that Algernon and Cecily are engaged. Her initial doubts over Cecily's suitability as a wife for her nephew are dispelled when the size of Cecily's trust fund is revealed. However, a stalemate develops when Jack refuses his consent to the marriage of his ward to Algernon until Lady Bracknell consents to his own marriage to Gwendolen (“Dear Lady Bracknell”).
The impasse is broken by the appearance of Cecily's governess, Miss Prism. Lady Bracknell recognizes Miss Prism, who twenty-eight years earlier had been a family nursemaid. One day, she left Lord Bracknell's house with a baby boy in a carriage and never returned. All is explained in the finale (“Finale”).
In the epilogue, the fate of this fictional musical that has just been enacted is revealed (“Reprise: The Only Really Safe Name is Earnest”).
Truly impressive! The whole thing is a hoot.
–The Newtown Bee
Oscar Wilde – Author of The Importance of Being Earnest. Flamboyant personality.
Sir Arthur Sullivan – Composer and partner of the Gilbert & Sullivan team.
Algernon Moncrieff – A idle, facetious young gentleman, residing in London.
Lane (Manservant)* – A butler in Wilde's home.
John Worthing, J.P. – A young, serious, somewhat stiff gentleman, concerned with appearances. Algernon's friend, known to Algernon as “Earnest Worthing.”
Lady Bracknell – An aristocratic, forceful in manner, middle-aged woman. Algernon's aunt, mother of Gwendolen.
Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax – A young lady living in London with her mother. Algernon's cousin. Admirer of “Earnest.”
Miss Prism (Governess) – Governess to Cecily Cardew. A proper woman, concerned with instructing Cecily in all accepted etiquette.
Merriman (Butler)* – John Worthing's butler at his country home.
Cecily Cardew – John Worthing's ward, residing in Mr. Worthing's country home. A young, naïve girl.
Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D. – Residing priest in the parish located in John Worthing's countryside town. Admirer of Miss Prism.
*These roles may be played by the same actor.
Setting: London, 1890s
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Billing responsibilities, pertinent copyright information, and playwrights' biographies are available in the show rider that comes with your license agreement. To download the show rider for Earnest or What’s in a Name, click here.
“It is truly impressive that Dr. Diamond wrote the sixteen songs for the show as well as conceiving the idea and pulling it all together. [The songs] capture exactly the spirit and cadence and essential drollery of Gilbert and Sullivan at their best. The characters sing, they dance (in the stiff, sedate manner made famous by Martin Green) and the whole thing is a hoot.” –Julie Stern, The Newtown Bee
“Dr. Diamond has created his adaptation as a historical 'what if?' growing out of the 1895 estrangement of the world famous theatrical team of Gilbert and Sullivan. The partnership, apparently over for good, composer Arthur Sullivan immediately began searching for a new librettist and quickly found Mr. Wilde who had just completed an extraordinary new play, The Importance of Being Earnest, that seemed the ideal piece to set to music. The reconciliation of Gilbert and Sullivan forever forestalled the Sullivan-Wilde collaboration, but the rift between the creative partners provided Dr. Diamond with the foundation for his own improvisation on Wilde's play, a charming and frothy musical comedy.” –Kathryn Boughton, Litchfield County Times
“Light and Delightful: Earnest or What's in a Name?” –George Linkletter, The Citizen News
“I wasn't familiar with Mr. Wilde's farcical comedy before I saw this show, but I enjoyed this musical! The original songs with musical arrangements by Frank Lindquist fit seamlessly into the action […] in fact, they helped to propel the story along for someone new to the story.” –Nancy Sasso Janis, Naugatuck Patch
“I very much enjoyed reading (Dr. Diamond's) skilled musical adaptation of Wilde's classic play. The opening (he's) written gives a charming context to the musical adaptation and the transitions between the musical elements and the original play are very smooth. (Diamond) demonstrates an understanding of Wilde's work and the vibrant spirit of the original is captured in the witty songs.” –Aideen Howard, Literary Director of Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Ireland
“I have read (the) lovely Earnest script and listened carefully to the music and lyrics which accompanied it [...] a wonderful piece of writing. […] (Dr. Diamond) has a perfect understanding of what The Importance of Being Earnest is about, and (the) music and, especially the lyrics are exquisite. I would not hesitate to recommend this enchanting version to any Off-Broadway theater, or any regional theater. They would be lucky to get it.” –Charlotte Moore, Artistic Director of The Irish Repertory Theatre, NYC
“Leonard Diamond's Earnest or What's in a Name? has a lot going for it.” –Joanne Greco Rochman, Republican American
Materials: Your materials will be sent to you two months prior to your opening date and will include everything necessary for your production. They can be ordered in Printed or Digital format. Printed Materials are provided on unbound three-hole punched loose-leaf paper while Digital Materials are provided via email as downloadable PDF files for you to print in-house. All materials are yours to keep! No deposits, no returns.
The Authorized Materials/Rehearsal Package for Earnest or What’s in a Name? includes: