Ernest In Love
A witty adaptation of Oscar Wilde's sparkling play about social hypocrisy among Victorian England's wealthy elite.
Show Essentials
+ Ensemble

Full Synopsis

Act One

The show opens on a summer afternoon in London. Lane, Algernon - known to many as Algy - Moncrieff's manservant, runs into Perkins, Jack - also known as Ernest - Worthing's manservant, at the green grocer. Lane promptly discloses that Lady Bracknell and her daughter, Lady Gwendolen Fairfax, are coming over to Algy's house for tea later that day. Various vendors besiege the two servants; the vendors are upset that Jack and Algy owe them money. Lane and Perkins explain that the rich never pay their debts; that's what makes English society so special ("Come Raise Your Cup").

Immediately following, Jack Worthing is in his living room writing a letter to Gwendolen. Perkins returns and reminds Jack about his debts, but Jack is more interested in news about Gwendolen; he thinks Algy's flat would be the perfect setting for Jack to ask Gwendolen to marry him. Jack asks Perkins for advice about proposing, but he offers no advice. Alone, Jack laments on not knowing what to say ("How Do You Find The Words?").

Meanwhile, in her dressing room, Gwendolen tries on a series of hats. She wants to look as beautiful as possible when she sees Jack; she is certain that he will propose today. Gwendolen has been told the first thing a man notices about a woman is her hat, so she realizes she must find the perfect one ("The Hat").

We transition to Algy's living room as Jack arrives. Algy informs Jack that Lady Bracknell, who is Algy's aunt, doesn't approve of Jack marrying Gwendolen. Furthermore, neither does Algy. He has found Jack's cigar case, with the inscription 'From little Cecily, with her fondest love, to her dear Uncle Jack.' When pressed, Jack confesses that Cecily is actually his eighteen-year-old ward, and that he himself is Jack. In the country, with Cecily, Jack is known as Jack, but in London he is known as Ernest. Algy confesses that he has also invented a persona: a permanent invalid named Bunbury, whom he goes to visit in the country whenever he wishes to get out of town ("Mr. Bunbury"). Jack is ready to get rid of Ernest if Gwendolen agrees to marry him but Algy tells him that he is crazy, for every man needs an Ernest or a Bunbury.

Eventually, Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive. Lady Bracknell takes Algy into the music room - leaving Jack and Gwendolen alone for a few moments. They passionately profess their love for each other. But, Jack still can't find the words to tell Gwendolen exactly how he feels ("Perfection"). Finally, he proposes and she accepts, saying that she's always wanted to love someone named Ernest. Jack asks her if she would love him if his name were Jack. She would not.

Gwendolen informs her mother that she is engaged. Lady Bracknell, however, is not enthused. Gwendolen is sent to wait in the carriage while Lady Bracknell questions Jack about his breeding. Jack never knew his parents and was discovered in a handbag, by an older gentleman, in a train station lobby. Lady Bracknell does not approve of this lineage ("A Handbag Is Not A Proper Mother"). If Jack wishes to be considered as a suitable husband, he must find another mother and father.

Jack decides he must go home to the country and straighten his life out; he must rid his life of Ernest forever. Algy asks about Cecily, to which Jack replies that Cecily is eighteen and excessively pretty. Algy expresses his interest. Gwendolen reenters and informs Jack that, from the expression on her mother's face, it is evident they will never marry. Nevertheless, she acquires his country address and they promise to communicate daily. Listening in the corner, Algy secretly writes the address down. Jack escorts Gwendolen to her carriage, and Lane brings Algy different clothes. He is ready to go to Jack's house in the country ("Mr. Bunbury - Reprise").

The following day, in the garden of Jack's country Manor House, Cecily is watering the roses while her teacher, Miss Prism, is knitting. Miss Prism tells Cecily to study more, since Jack has left strict instructions for her. Cecily wishes that Uncle Jack would let his wild brother come visit. His maid, Effie, announces that Dr. Chausable, the local pastor, has arrived. Miss Prism fakes a slight headache and asks to go for a stroll in the park with Dr. Chausable. He accepts and the two leave. Effie then announces to Cecily that Jack's younger brother, Ernest, has arrived from London. Cecily is intrigued at finally getting to meet him ("A Wicked Man"). Effie returns with Ernest - who is actually Algy posing as Ernest - and he aggressively flirts with Cecily, while she enjoys it immensely. Cecily hears Miss Prism and Dr. Chausable returning, and the two quickly disappear. The doctor and Miss Prism enter; she encourages the doctor to consider marriage to a mature woman ("Metaphorically Speaking"). Eventually, she has him dancing with his arms around her when Jack enters. He announces that Ernest is dead in Paris. Suddenly, Cecily enters with her own announcement: Ernest has arrived for a visit. Everyone is stunned by Ernest's miraculous recovery...especially Jack.

Jack and Algy are left alone, and Algy says that he is ready to stay for a week. He finds himself enchanted by Cecily. Jack insists that Algy leave, but Algy says that if he is forced to go, he will wire Gwendolen to come down and see the fraudulent life Jack is leading in the country. Jack counters that if Algy does that, he will expose him to Cecily. Algy has no intentions of going anywhere ("A Wicked Man - Reprise").

Act Two

Back at the country manor, Effie and Lane in a passionate embrace. As Effie snuggles up to Lane, she wagers that Algy and Cecily have probably never even held hands; the upper class rules, regulations, manners, and morals make it very difficult to physically engage in love ("You Can't Make Love"). In the garden, Cecily tells Algy that she is sorry he has been called back to town. He tells her that he is not leaving yet, because he must first tell Cecily that she is the 'visible personification of absolute perfection.' She copies the phrase into her diary. He continues to praise her, and she continues to write down all of the praises ("Lost"). He confesses that he is hopelessly in love with her and asks her to marry him. She says that she will and informs him they have actually been engaged for the last three months, as long as she has been in love with Uncle Jack's wicked younger brother. She shows him a ring on her finger and a box of letters from him; she bought the ring and wrote the letters herself, since she never actually met Ernest. Upon hearing this, he is so overtaken with love that he kisses her. She also admits that she could never love someone with a name like Algernon. Upon hearing this, Algy departs on business - to be christened by Dr. Chausable and have his name changed to Ernest.

Next, Effie announces to Cecily that Gwendolen has arrived to see her Uncle Jack. Jack is away at the rector's, so Cecily talks with Gwendolen. The two instantly hit it off and appear to be good friends, as they learn more about each other ("My Very First Impression"). Then they learn they are both engaged to who they think is the same man: Ernest. Jack returns and goes to kiss Gwendolen who pushes him away, asking if he is engaged to Cecily. She learns his true identity as Jack. When Algy comes in, Cecily points out that he is the real Ernest. Gwendolen exposes him as her cousin. Both women find out that they have been deceived and Jack confesses that he never had a wicked brother named Ernest. The girls, angry about all that has happened, bond once again and go into the house. Jack is upset, but Algy is nonplussed as he eats the ladies' leftovers from tea ("The Muffin Song").

Gwendolen and Cecily have gone to the Manor House and are both upset. Jack and Algy both enter, and admit that they assumed alternate identities only in the hopes of meeting the ladies. The ladies are flattered, but neither can get past the fact that neither man's Christian name is actually Ernest. The men reveal plans of being christened later that day to change their names. The ladies are touched and all four pledge eternal devotion ("My Eternal Devotion").

Lady Bracknell enters and learns that her daughter is engaged to Jack. She forbids it and also expresses anger over Algy's reunion with Cecily, until she learns that Cecily is worth quite a bit of money. Jack, however, says that their engagement is impossible because Cecily cannot marry without his consent until the age of thirty-five, per her grandfather's will. Jack suggests that he will reconsider his stance, however, if Lady Bracknell reconsiders hers on Gwendolen's marriage ("A Handbag Is Not A Proper Mother - Reprise"). Cecily informs Jack that she cannot handle any more time with Miss Prism watching over her. Upon hearing this name, Lady Bracknell demands to see her immediately. With Lady Bracknell gone, the four lovers ponder the situation and decide they must elope this very afternoon ("The Muffing Song - Reprise").

We transition to the front lawn of the church; Dr. Chausable is preparing for the christenings of Jack and Algy. Eventually, the group enters and Miss Prism emerges from the church. Lady Bracknell spots her and Miss Prism shrinks. It is revealed that Lady Bracknell left a male baby in Prism's charge nearly thirty years ago. The baby carriage was discovered three weeks later with no baby. Miss Prism admits that she took the baby out of his carriage while taking him for a stroll, and also took the book she was writing out of her handbag. When she became distracted, she accidently switched up the baby with the novel. Upon hearing this story, Jack leaves and returns with a black handbag, which Prism says is hers.

Everyone now realizes that Jack was the baby placed in that handbag; Jack is actually the son of Lady Bracknell's sister, or Algy's elder brother! His name is, in fact, Ernest. He isn't a fraud after all and doesn't need to be christened. The lovers end up together happily ever after, including Miss Prism and Dr. Chausable ("Ernest In Love").

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Cast Size: Small (Up to 10 performers)
Cast Type: Ensemble Cast

Character Breakdown

Jack Worthing
A very earnest young man, intent on marrying Miss Gwendolen Fairfax.
Gender: male
Age: 25 to 30
Gwendolen Fairfax
In her 20's. An outspoken young lady, equally intent on marrying Mr. Worthing.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 30
Lady Bracknell
A society matron with two passions in life; cucumber sandwiches and a proper match for her daughter. She is Gwendolen's mother and Mr. Algernon Moncrieff's aunt.
Gender: female
Age: 40 to 55
Algernon Moncrieff
Slightly younger than Jack, not at all earnest about anything, and not intent on marrying anyone.
Gender: male
Age: 25 to 30
Cecily Cardew
Mr. Worthing's excessively pretty ward who is only just eighteen. Her desire in life is to meet a wicked man.
Gender: female
Age: 15 to 20
Miss Prism
A spinster whose sights are intently set on the Reverend Dr. Chasuble.
Gender: female
Age: 45 to 65
Dr. Chasuble
The local pastor, intent only on remaining single.
Gender: male
Age: 45 to 65
Algy's lusty-and-loyal manservant.
Gender: male
Age: 25 to 35
An earthy country maid
Gender: female
Age: 35 to 45
Gwendolen's personal maid in London.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 40
Jack's manservant in town
Gender: male
Age: 25 to 35
Boot Maker, Dancing Master, Greengrocer, PianoTeacher, Tobacconist
Full Song List
Ernest In Love: Overture
Ernest In Love: Come Raise Your Cup
Ernest In Love: How Do You Find The Words?
Ernest In Love: The Hat
Ernest In Love: Mr. Bunbury
Ernest In Love: Perfection
Ernest In Love: A Handbag Is Not A Proper Mother
Ernest In Love: A Wicked Man
Ernest In Love: Metaphorically Speaking
Ernest In Love: You Can't Make Love
Ernest In Love: Lost
Ernest In Love: My Very First Impression
Ernest In Love: The Muffin Song
Ernest In Love: Eternal Devotion
Ernest In Love: Ernest In Love (Finale)

Show History


Ernest In Love , with a book and lyrics by Anne Croswell and music by Lee Pockriss, is a musicalized version of the classic Oscar Wilde play The Importance of Being Earnest.  The musical follows the original action of a play to a tee, that is, the story of two men who utilize the fake identity of a sick relative to put themselves into and get themselves out of various situations.  The only additions and changes that are made are several scenes and musical numbers focusing on the servants of the manor.  Though several films and other adaptations had been made of the play, this was the only musical version of the original source material.

The musical is a lengthened version of a one-hour musical written for television, titled Who's Earnest?, which premiered on The United States Steel Hour  in 1957.


Ernest In Love opened on May 4, 1960 at the Gramercy Arts Theatre Off-Broadway.  Though the production was warmly received by critics, it ran for only 103 performances,  though the musical was then performed several times in stock and amateur productions for the next several years.  In 2005, the Japanese all-female musical theatre troupe Takarazuka Revue staged a prominent production of the musical.  In 2010, the Irish Repertory Theatre revived Ernest In Love Off-Broadway.

Cultural Influence

  • Ernest In Love was the first collaboration between Anne Croswell and Lee Pockriss.  The two would go on to write the musical Tovarich in 1963, which served as Vivien Leigh's Broadway debut.


  • Celebrities that have performed in Ernest In Love include: Louis Edmonds (Algernon), Beth Fowler (Lady Bracknell), Annika Boras (Gwendolyn), and Noah Racey (Jack).
  • The songs from Ernest In Love were written by Lee Pockriss, the same man who created "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini".

Critical Reaction

"Everything has been done in the most impeccable taste [...] Lee Pockriss's music is deft and droll. Anne Croswell's book and lyrics are clever [...] the whole performance radiates sly good nature...Even without the music, it would be enough to watch the ingenious turns of Wilde's mad plot and listen to the insufferable embroidery of his dialogue." - The New York Times

"Charming [...] a fresh and likable musical show..excellently played." - New York Post

"It has all the charm and pleasure of a spring bouquet." - New York Herald Tribune

"Presented with bewitching finesse [...] Anne Croswell and Lee Pockriss (managed between them to put a fresh and personal spin on [The Importance of Being Earnest] [...] works flawlessly on its own modest terms." - The Wall Street Journal

"It s worth every penny to hear how neatly this show can work." - EDGE Entertainment

"A charming, delightful work. [...] [Croswell's] clever lyrics wisely do not try to compete with Wilde in wit, but make use of 19th century vocabulary for their rhymes. Pockriss, most famous for the song, 'Catch a Falling Star,' has composed a very melodic and catchy score which includes ballads, patter songs and music hall style numbers." -

"An absolute delight [...] 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. [...] This show is an absolute treat, and my favorite thing I've seen in a while." -

"Anne Croswell's book and lyrics follow Wilde's script quite faithfully, and Lee Pockriss's jaunty, lyrical music mirrors the operetta-influenced style of the late 19th century." - New York Daily News



Based on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest


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