Almost invariably, whenever someone learns that I have written a musical version of The Importance of Being Earnest, they usually ask me “Why?”; which is a good question, considering that it was written in 1895 and is still performed fairly frequently without benefit of music. I was of the same opinion until I saw a musical version some fifty years ago—which, while pleasant, was more in the spirit of a romantic operetta/musical comedy than in the spirit of the satirical comedy that Wilde had written. It did, however, start me thinking about how one of the great comedies of the English language could be preserved while adding music. I thought about that on and off for many years, until about fifteen years ago, when I read an article that gave me the answer.
When Gilbert and Sullivan broke up (around the same time as Wilde was writing The Importance of Being Earnest), Sullivan went looking for a new librettist/lyricist and was reportedly considering Wilde as that person. I knew then how I was going to musicalize The Importance of Being Earnest: stick strictly to Wilde's dialogue, using it both as the basis for the libretto and the lyrics. In fact, there is only one word that I have added to the original (buskers), which was necessary for a song queue. As for the style of music, clearly that had to be Sullivanian. After that, things went fairly easily, although it did take four more years to write, and another nine for it to be produced. Along the way, Earnest Or What’s In A Name? was a finalist in the NYMF 2013 Competition, placing ahead of almost 200 entries. But to quote from another pretty good English writer, “all's well that ends well.”