The Importance of Being Paul Gordon

We should all be grateful for the indomitable spirit and tenacity of those people out there writing musical theatre.  It takes so long to develop a musical and the odds against getting it staged before an audience are so high.  And then getting it seen again or keeping it on stage for more than a moment are even more difficult still.

Paul Gordon

Paul Gordon

Thank goodness there are folks out there that just have to keep writing anyway.  Eventually, you might achieve a proven track record, win an armload of awards and maybe even get a Tony nomination.  That might help lower the bars a bit.  But, it’s still a long, long road.  Thank goodness for those people.

Thank goodness in particular for Paul Gordon.  He has written, with Jay Gruska, Being Earnest, a musical based on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest,  which is now in rehearsal towards its world premiere opening at TheatreWorks on April 6, 2013 under the direction of Robert Kelley.   The musical is set in 1965 and its music is inspired by the British Invasion.   I saw a fun early read through (or “sing through”) in 2011, a terrific revised version during TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival last summer and have been lucky enough to sit in on a couple of rehearsals for this premiere production.

photo by T. Martin

photo by T. Martin

Gordon has wisely allowed Oscar Wilde’s original wit to remain largely intact throughout much of the book of Being Earnest while modernizing to 1965 where necessary this classic English comedy of made-up identities and the rather odd values and manners of the British upper class.   The story of this “Trivial Comedy for Serious People” (as Wilde himself subtitled it) is much more fun to watch than to read about, so suffice it to say that it involves two young and handsome male English aristocrats, each of whom assumes an alter ego identity named Ernest at some point, two young and comely English girls, a hilarious Lady Bracknell, a few other only-in-England supporting characters, and a tale of a baby in a handbag left at a train station.  You can’t help but laugh.

Gordon said that one of the particular challenges with Being Earnest was to ensure that it was not just Oscar Wilde’s play with songs added, but that they achieve cohesive integration of the music and the play.  He and Gruska appear to be meeting that goal well.  The lyrics and the music both play a significant role in establishing an overall feel to this piece of theatre; the songs serve a story-telling function and greatly enhance the comedy as well as the more serious underlying  themes in the play — the universal human desires for love, family and belonging.   The convoluted comedic circumstances and characters of the story, the clever language in the original source material and in the new lyrics, the consistent  ”vibe” created by the period music (not to mention the writers’ whimsical use of the lightening quick tribute riff or phrase to remind some of us of particular early 60s songs) , and the updated sensibilities throughout  – all work together to create a hilarious and delightful musical for a 21st Century audience.  What I’ve seen so far is so much fun, I can’t wait to see it on stage with costumes, set and props.    I have high hopes for this musical!

photo by T.Martin

photo by T.Martin

It is not particularly risky to predict success for a Paul Gordon musical.  His musicals have garnered numerous awards and are consistent audience favorites.   His musical adaptation of  Jane Austen’s Emma (which was developed by TheatreWorks with a world premiere in 2007)  won the the 2007 Bay Area Critics Circle Award for his book and the 2011 San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and was most recently produced in December 2012 at the Arizona Theatre Company.   Gordon  won the Ovation Award for his score to  Daddy Longs Legs (book by John Caird) which is one of my all-time favorite TheatreWorks’ productions, has had at least 18 other productions around the country and in London and Tokyo and is currently in production in Canada.  On Broadway, the musical Jane Eyre, co-written by Paul Gordon and John Caird, was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score.

In addition to a separate successful career as a songwriter and collaborator for recording artists (he is the winner of many ASCAP awards and has collaborated with and written for numerous singers including Alanis Morissette, Bette Midler, Smokey Robinson) Paul Gordon keeps coming back to musical theatre.    His on-going projects include working with John Caird and Sam Caird on Little Miss Scrooge (a Dickens Christmas mash-up) and an intriguing musical called Lucky Break based on Woody Allen’s movie The Front (written with Jay Gruska and Seth Friedman).

We are very fortunate Paul Gordon and his partners are out there writing musical theatre.  They work for many years to get it ready for us to see.  Now, all we have to do is go see it!  If you will be anywhere near Mountain View, California in April, you should give yourself this treat.  I’d be interested to hear how you like it. (And, if you’re disappointed that you can’t be in the Bay Area in April —  be patient, I predict you may still get a chance to be delighted by Being Earnest someday.)


I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

Oscar Wilde

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