Ken Ludwig’s new play, A Comedy of Tenors is a good old-fashioned theatrical farce. “Three tenors. Three egos. One stage. What can possibly go wrong?” said the Cleveland Play House promotion. You may remember Ludwig’s big hit of 26 years ago—Lend Me a Tenor—and this one, too, involves amorous shenanigans with high-voltage opera stars, most of them the same characters who appeared in the earlier play.
A Comedy of Tenors premiered at the Cleveland Play House in September then moved to Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, which co-produced it and where it was on stage through November 1. The entire cast of seven moved with it, as did director Stephen Wadsworth, who has masterminded numerous notable McCarter plays over the past two decades. Wadsworth is well acquainted with the operatic temperament through his work with opera companies across Europe, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and as director of Opera Studies at the Julliard School. He doubtless has a natural affinity for this comedic material.
Set in 1930s Paris, the story centers on the final hours before a “three tenors”-style concert. But impresario Henry Saunders can’t seem to get his three singers in the same place at the same time. First, a Swedish tenor drops out altogether, but the biggest star of the bunch—Tito “Il Stupendo” Merelli—objects to the replacement Saunders is lucky to find. He’s a much younger man whose popularity is soaring, and Merelli is beginning to feel his age. Making matters worse are several romantic mixups that only a deft hand with comedy can carry off. The three singers finally come together, then fall apart again, and it appears the only man who can save Saunders’s concert is a bellhop with a golden voice.
The strikingly gorgeous set used in Cleveland—a luxury hotel suite—also made the trip to Princeton. As set designer Charlie Corcoran said in the program notes, “There’s one very specific need in all farces, and that is doors.” Doors to enter, doors to exit, and doors to slam. Lead actor Bradley Dean makes good use of those doors, as he plays both Merelli and the bellhop, and must exit the stage left door as Tito, dash around backstage (changing costume en route) and enter the door stage right as the bellhop. Watching him switch roles, costumes, and personae is one of the play’s great charms.
Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor is still playing all over the United States, and for theatergoers who love a romantic farce, his new play is something to watch for!