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Ken Ludwig’s world premiere of A COMEDY OF TENORS delights @ Cleveland Public Theatre

Ludwig’s world premiere of A COMEDY OF TENORS delights @ CPH

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

The Cleveland Play House opened its 100th season in a lavish and theatrically exciting way.  An invitation only group of CPH financial supporters, politicians, and theatre enthusiasts, draped in tuxedos and high fashioned gowns, entered the beautiful Allen theatre lobby to have their pictures taken with the 2015 Best Regional Theatre Tony Award statue.  Guests were then escorted into the inner lobby where a cocktail party was in full swing.

The crowd then assembled in the Allen Theatre for the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s A COMEDY OF TENORS.

Last May, the play had a reading as part of the New Ground Festival.  With Ludwig present to judge the quality of the script, as well as audience reaction, it became quickly obvious that the grand master of farce was well on his way to another big hit.  In part, as a result of the reading, A COMEDY OF TENORS was booked as the opening show for CPH’s second centennial season.

A COMEDY OF TENORS is the second in Ludwig’s look at the world of farcical classical musical stagings.  His first show on the topic, LEND ME A TENOR, is one of modern America’s best farces.  It received nine Tony award nominations, has appeared twice on Broadway, has been translated into sixteen languages and has been produced in twenty-five countries.

A COMEDY OF TENORS carries forth many of the madcap characters from LEND ME A TENOR.  There is Henry Saunders, the former Mayor of Cleveland, who is now a producer of operatic concerts.  His son-in-law, Max, now a recognized tenor, is still Saunders’ do it all man Friday.  Tito Morelli, (“Il Stupendo”) the temperamental, world famous Italian tenor and his ever put upon wife, Maria, are still bickering and threatening each other.  Add Carlo, the new heart throb tenor, who is having a secret affair with Mimi, Morelli’s daughter, Tatian Racón, Tito’s former lover, and a surprise guest, and hysterical chaos reigns.

Farce, a light dramatic work with a highly improbable plot and exaggerated characters, is hard to both write and perform.   The writing must be so precise that the audience is led to laughter by the realism of the language imbedded in unbelievable situations.  The performances must be authentic, not beg for laughs, and the actions so broad that they require laughter.  Lots of door slamming, mistaken identifies, non-stop stage movements, and pure joy on the part of the audience are the keys to success.

Laugh after laugh greets one improbable scene after another.  Ludwig knows no ridiculous limits.  There’s a talking deli tongue, lots of people in underwear, cast members diving off a balcony, sexual innuendoes that might shock, some Swedish put downs that are sure to bring groans, and making fun of death.   Even the curtain call is hysterical.

The cast has been melded into a unit by director Stephen Wadsworth that understands that, for farce to work, the actors must be totally real in their character development.  Their earnestness must come across.  These are “real” people caught in a series of ridiculous situations.  We laugh at what is happening to them, the outlandishness which is coming out of their mouths, but not at them per se.

Ron Orbach rants, raves and overplays Saunders to perfection.  He creates a producer who is walking on a tight-rope of hypertension.

Petite Rob McClure, he of unbounded energy and fine tenor voice, leaps over ottomans, dashes around putting out possible disasters, and sweetly allows us to share the wonder of the birth of Max’s son, with total glee.

Bradley Dean creates a Tito who is a hot-blooded Italian drama queen, an aging superstar on the cusp of his career, and a loving father and husband, with nice texturing.  He has a wonderful touch with comedic timing and a great singing voice.

Antoinette LaVecchia as Maria, Tito’s high strung wife, is his counterpart in displaying stereotypical Italian excitement, and gets her share of laughs.

Handsome Bobby Conte Thornton charmingly cavorts around the stage showing off his gym-toned body in a pair of tighty-whities as he romances Mimi,  Tito and Maria’s daughter.   He, as the other tenors in the cast, has a fine singing voice.  His face slapping scene with Mimi, brought verbal gasps and laughs from the audience

Beautiful Kristen Martin is very believable as Mimi, while Lisa Brescia does a nice turn as Tatiana.

Charlie Corcoran’s plush, art deco set, is not only attractive, but well built as it stands up to the numerous powerful door slams.  William Ivey Long’s costumes are era correct, including the males’ high-waisted pleated pants, and the female courtier dresses.

Last night Ludwig shared, in a conversation we had following production, the challenge of writing a farce.  The author, who loves Cleveland, has been in town during the rehearsals of the show and had been doing some rewriting the script.  That  tweeking continued until shortly before last night’s curtain went up.  His reaction to the CPH staging was on the personable Ludwig’s cherubic face, as he wandered the crowd, smiling, sharing stories, and graciously receiving a massive number of compliments from the assemblage.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Ah, what a night at CPH.  The viewing of their well-deserved Tony, a Ken Ludwig farce which will forever be listed as having had its world premiere beside the PlayhouseSquare chandelier, was a class act celebration of the theatre’s one- hundredth anniversary.  As for the play, if the opening night audience’s reaction is an indication of things to come, Ludwig should be well- off financially from the royalties to be garnered from the professional and amateur rights to the show.  If you love farce, if you go to the theatre to have a good time, you must see A COMEDY OF TENORS.

A COMEDY OF TENORS runs through October 3, 2015, at the Allen Theatre in the CPH complex at PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to