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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
A Comedy of Tenors

Max! What the hell are you doing?! Get up here!. . . I don't care if you're rehearsing, I need some help. The concert starts in three hours and Tito isn't here yet. — Saunders
A Comedy of Tenors
L. to R. Bobby Conte Thornton, Ron Orbach, Bradley Dean, Rob McClure. (Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni)
Considering how few contemporary practitioners there are of dramatic farce (not an oxymoron) Ken Ludwig deserves our praise. His plays are carrying on the age-old tradition of this complexly constructed genre that has inspired and sometimes even confounded many playwrights from Plautus to Moliere to George S. Kaufman. A Comedy of Tenors is even more consistently hilarious as his hugely popular Lend Me a Tenoreven. This also means that the McCarter Theatre Center has a huge hit on its hands.

The characters he has assembled this time (some of whom will hopefully be familiar) have been refreshingly re-observed. A trio of temperamental tenors (are there any other kind?) one wife, one lover and a few significant others have been recruited to create havoc, make love to the wrong person, slam the usual number of doors, leap head first off a balcony, hide, dress and undress in corresponding bedrooms and one pretending to be who he is not.

It's an absurdist situation involving a look-a-like hotel porter who amazingly sings, a talking pickled tongue (don't ask) and a nervous producer who can't keep the approaching preparations from spiraling out of control and into complete chaos. As it should, the play with it many stunts and silly shtick galore moves along at breakneck speed. But it is Ludwig's gleeful almost giddy text that will keep you laughing, sometimes even hoping for a breather.

A Comedy of Tenors takes place in 1936 two years after the events that take place in Lend Me a Tenor. The plot, or situation, requires no knowledge of the former play for an audience to be delighted by the continued frolics and frustrations that beset the world-class tenor Tito Merelli (Bradley Dean) as he arrives in Paris, accompanied (once again) by his tempestuous wife Maria (Antoinette LaVecchia) to sing at a gala concert. The gimmick is that he is contracted to sing with two other tenors Max (Rob McClure) and Carlo (Bobby Conton Thornton) for what has been promoted by their high-anxiety producer Saunders (Ron Orbach) as "the biggest concert in the history of Paris."

All the action takes place in a luxurious suite in a swanky Paris hotel (lavishly designed by Charlie Corcoran to incorporate both traditional and Art Deco decor) in which a little hanky-panky is already in progress. Unknown to Tito is the affair that is going on between his beguiling daughter Mimi (Kristen Martin) and Carlo of whom Tito not only disapproves but who he mistakenly believes is having an affair with his wife. Add the singing hotel porter (also played by Dean who, except for his mustache, is the spitting image of Tito) and a sexy Russian soprano Tatiana (Lisa Brescia) — who, unbeknownst to Maria, once had had a torrid affair with Tito. I should mention that Max, who was Saunder's assistant in Lend Me a Tenor and his now his son-in-law, is anxious to get through the concert before his wife (unseen) goes into labor.

The shenanigans unfold in close to real time with the concert scheduled to begin in two hours. It remains for Saunders to keep his temper-prone tenors and their entourage from killing each other before they actually get to sing. I won't divulge details about some of the outrageous behavior that is guided by director Stephen Wadsworth. Although his primary metier is grand opera, he has also won praise for his direction of classic comedies by Marivaux and Moliere at McCarter. The ensemble has been brilliantly corralled to work seamlessly as a team, but also individually as shameless scene-stealers.

Scene-stealers include: McClure, who is all nerves and jitters as the newest operatic sensation Max whose fine voice is matched more than once by an awesome grand-je-te. . .veteran actor Orbach who fumes and fusses funnily as the entrepreneurial Saunders. . . Brescia who slithers seductively into the arms of the wrong man. Thornton and Martin may be the best-looking pair of lovers, but they don't hold a candle to the demonstrations of passion-in-excess as exhibited by the pretentiously posturing Dean and tantrums of the hot-blooded LaVecchia. I almost forgot to mention the audience cheering the great operatic moments throughout the play.

The stunning costumes designed by couture genius William Ivey Long are as apt to dazzle as much asthe performances. Also be prepared for a whirlwind of a mimed windup in which the entire cast reprise all the loony action in the play in two minutes.

A Comedy of Tenors has all the makings of another huge success for Ludwig both in regional theaters and on Broadway where I expect it will land. . . hopefully before any of the tenors quit.

A Comedy of Tenors by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Stephen Wadsworth

Cast: Ron Orbach (Saunders), Rob McClure (Max), Antoinette LaVecchia (Maria), Bradley Dean (Tito), Bobby Conte Thornton (Carlo), Kristen Martin (Mimi), Lisa Brescia (Tatiana Racon)
Set Design: Charlie Corcoran
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: Joshua Horvath
Fight Director: Shad Ramsey
Production Stage Manager: Allison Cote
Running Time: One hour fifty minutes including intermission
(609) 258 - 2787 or
Matthews Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ
Tickets: $25.00 - $75.00
Performances: Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm; Saturday matinee at 3 pm and Sunday matinee at 2 pm.
From 10/13/15 Opened 10/16/15 Ends 11/01/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/16/15
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