Ken Ludwig is a comedic genius. Buy a ticket to A Comedy of Tenors at McCarter Theatre Center because it’s THAT good. I should be able to end my review here, but I’ll continue for those who need to know why. I honestly believe, the less you know about the play, the funnier it will be, so I will be as brief as possible. Then again, you may want to see it twice.
Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors, directed by Stephen Wadsworth, is a follow up to the plawright’s Tony Award winning play Lend Me a Tenor that ran on London’s West End (1986) and Broadway (1989) and had a Broadway revival in 2010. The two plays are independent from each other, so you can watch A Comedy of Tenors, which was co-produced with the Cleveland Play House, without feeling that you’ve missed something.
The play begins in a Parisian hotel in 1936 with concert producer Henry Saunders (Ron Orbach) and his assistant Max (Rob McClure). They are in the beautifully designed three-room art deco hotel suite of famed opera singer Tito Merelli (Bradley Dean). They were awaiting the arrival of Tito and his wife Maria (Antoinette LaVecchia) for the biggest event Saunders had ever organized – a concert of three tenors. Tito, Saunder’s son-in-law Max, and Jussi Björling were the scheduled singers to perform.
Unfortunately, Björling pulled out of the concert due to a death in his family. With just hours until the concert, Saunders was under pressure to find a third tenor. Saunders left in a panic to find a replacement, which he did, and the new tenor sparked multiple fireworks. A series of discoveries and mistaken identities lead to a door slamming, people chasing farce.
To add authenticity to this production, Tito quoted lines from various operas to express his emotions, and during the rehearsal before their concert, the three tenors presented the audience with a remarkable live performance of Libiamo ne’ lieti calici from La Traviata, so they really can sing. This is one element I will give away, because it does not effect the comedic side of the performance.
A Comedy of Tenors is fast paced and filled with non-stop hilarity! Intermission seemed to have come so quickly because it was so engaging. At the end, an “encore” was given for all of us who couldn’t get enough.
Ron Orbach who played Saunders, anchored the cast as “the straight man“, and displayed a delightful assortment of facial expressions. Rob McClure’s portrayal of Max was endearing as Saunders’ sidekick and up and coming opera singer, and he has quite a nice voice. Antoinette LaVecchia (Maria) had a wonderful rapport with both Bradley Dean (Tito) and Bobby Conte Thornton (Carlo), and great comedic timing. Bradley Dean was sensational in two roles, the major one being opera singer Tito Merrelli suffering from a mid-life crisis. He was able to easily pull off being in two different places within 30 seconds from each other (yes, I counted). He did break a slight sweat, but he was never out of breath. His timing and singing were impeccable. Bobby Conte Thornton played the young, rising star Carlo Nucci, who is also a talented singer with great timing. Kristen Martin portrays Mimi, the daughter of Tito and Maria. She not only has good comedic timing, but is also quite acrobatic. Lisa Brescia is very funny as Tito’s former lover, the great soprano Tatiana Racón.
Ludwig wrote last season’s Baskerville shown at McCarter and is a brilliant playwright. I would not be surprised if A Comedy of Tenors landed on Broadway and won one or more Tony Awards. Wadsworth directed the Figaro plays at McCarter the season before last, and is not only a theater director, but also a director of opera. It’s not easy to direct a great comedy, and he seemed to be able to do so effortlessly. He paid a wonderful homage to the opera world in the small details. Combined with Scenic Designer Charlie Corcoran’s stunning art deco set, and six-time Tony award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long, you have a dream team for this spectacular production.
A Comedy of Tenors plays in the Matthews Theatre until November 1, 2015. It has a runtime of 1 hour 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Due to some bedroom humor, I would recommend this for audiences over 13 years of age.