Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of Ken Ludwig’s A COMEDY OF TENORS at Paper Mill Playhouse
Through February 26th
Hi, my name is Stephanie and I’m a farce-aholic.
I truly didn’t even know it was possible until it was too late, but now I can’t get enough. My most recent binge was at Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors…and I’m presently in some serious withdrawal.
Farce is defined as: a comic dramatic work using buffoonery [I love that word!] and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations. I couldn’t have said it better – and it is these riotous elements which transport us from the humdrum and the stresses of everyday life and allow total escape to a place where anything goes and it usually does. Doors slam, clothing comes off, identities are mistaken, plots are twisted, luggage is lost, everything is exaggerated, and you just love, love, love it.
But I must admit that farce is not my only addiction. The other is Paper Mill Playhouse – the venue extraordinaire which makes you feel as if you’ve entered a Broadway theatre except it’s nestled in suburban Millburn, NJ – in fact, it’s above and beyond Broadway in so many respects. They deservedly won the 2016 Regional Tony Award and each and every production feels like the best possible artistic construction. It’s stunning, it’s spacious, and in the dreary winter months you’re welcomed by a roaring fire and a bustling bar. There also are countless ghosts of productions past including such greats as Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Patrick Swayze, Lynn Redgrave, and Liza Minelli – as well as my very own dad who performed there in the 1964 with Liza in Carnival.
A Comedy of Tenors, expertly directed by Don Stephenson, is the sequel to the acclaimed Lend Me a Tenor!, which I regrettably have not seen. But that is of no matter, since the highly engaging, Paris-set production stands on its own as a sidesplittingly creative yarn about the continuing accounts of many of Lend Me’s vibrant characters. In this installment and in the vein of The Producers, high-strung producer Henry Saunders is doing his best to keep from blowing his stack (mostly unsuccessfully) while preparing for the curtain of a new show – a three-tenor opera concert he’s fashioned. His former assistant, current son-in-law, and now-performing tenor, Max, is the straight man to Saunders’ melodramatic and outlandish antics and he works hard to calm the savage beast in a lavish three-room suite at the Faubourg Ritz Hotel.
What has Saunders’ panties in a bunch is that the two other tenors of the trio are nowhere to be found – Swedish singer Jussi Björling and Italian opera legend Tito Morelli. He’s only half relieved when the irascible Tito and his wife, Maria, show up. While Tito laments his advancing age, his waning appeal to his female fans, and whether or not he’s already too-ripened in his career, fiery Maria attempts to soothe him. What adds to the hullabaloo is the near-naked presence of their daughter Mimi, who strives to free herself from her father’s overprotective grip, along with her handsome and virile paramour Carlo Nucci.
Saunders nearly loses it when he learns Jussi has backed out, but as luck would have it, Carlo can step in – because of course he’s a tenor! And what happens next is only the sort of colorful and unconventional folly that a farce can spin. Enter two more outrageous characters – first, Beppo, a Venetian gondolier-turned-bellhop. Quite the opportunist, it just so happens that Beppo also is a tenor and bears a striking resemblance to Tito who’s now gone off the deep end about some such. Next to arrive is Tatiana Racón, Tito’s ravishing and sultry former lover. No more spoilers here, but suffice it to say, the entire troupe goes forward, backward, upside-down, and sideways for the rest of the two incredible acts – and you’ll be doubled over from laughing until your intercostals hurt.
Now for the amazing cast – the always fantastic Michael Kostroff, a Paper Mill veteran whom we saw as Max Bialystock in The Producers and is star of stage and screen, nails it as the stressed-out, on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown Saunders. He has impeccable comedic timing and tremendous chemistry with his stage counterpart Max, played by David Josefsberg. We also loved Josefsberg in The Producers as Leo Bloom, a production where the two had a very similar synergy. Josefsberg pulls in the laughs through his impeccable Abbott to Kostroff’s Costello.
Yet another of our favorites from The Producers also appears in this production – none other than John Treacy Egan as Tito and his doppelgänger Beppo. Egan’s got a voice that hits it out of the park, and he hilariously and seamlessly goes back and forth between the posturing Tito and the endearing and kooky Beppo who is just one of the group who has a penchant for beef tongue. I wondered how Egan didn’t wipe out backstage running between the doors as he morphed from one character to the other.
Judy Blaze is a dynamic force-to-be-reckoned-with as Maria, who holds her own against her larger-than-life husband. Jill Paice shines as Mimi, the plucky, histrionic daughter, who like her parents, knows what she wants and will do anything to get it. Ryan Silverman as Carlo not only has an incredible voice but he’s charismatic, charming, and has a great set of abs! Donna English is a fabulous Tatiana, passionate and altogether outrageous.
Major kudos to Michael Scweikardt for scenic design – I’d rent a suite in that gorgeous hotel any day; to Mariah Hale for spectacular costume design; to Stephen Terry for lighting design; to Randy Hansen for sound design; and Paul Huntley for hair and wig design. Shout-outs to Alexander Kariotis for music direction and arrangements, Michael Rossmy for fight direction, and Telsey & Company for spot-on casting.
Thank you Mark. S. Hoebee, Paper Mill’s producing artistic director, and Todd Schmidt, managing director, for two hours of pure, unadulterated, blissful enjoyment. Even if your next show isn’t a farce, at least my return to the Playhouse will feed one half of my addictions and I’m looking very forward to the high!
I never saw the critically acclaimed Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig. But I did catch the equally acclaimed sequel, A Comedy of Tenors also by Ludwig at the Tony Award-winning regional theatre, Paper Mill Playhouse. Now I’m kinky bumming (don’t ask, it’s an expression I’ve been using since law school) because A Comedy of Tenors was so entertaining and engaging that I desperately want to see its predecessor. Fortunately, from a story perspective, each play stands on its own and Lend Me a Tenor is not a prerequisite for understanding and/or enjoying A Comedy of Tenors.
Seeing A Comedy of Tenors was like a homecoming because half of the talented and amazing cast had previously appeared in The Producers at Paper Mill, and we at Pillow Talking raved about it. This familiarity made for a quick immersion into the storyline; indeed, it was like watching the producers from The Producers producing another production fiasco. (I love alliteration.)
It’s 1936 and the setting is a suite in the Faubourg Ritz Hotel in Paris. Producer Henry Saunders and his loyal minion/sidekick/son-in-law, Max, are producing “The Concert of Three Tenors” for a packed stadium. A last minute cancellation of one of the tenors wreaks havoc as the producing duo try to hold everything together while they search for a replacement. Chaos erupts when four tenors, three girlfriends, and two wives end up crossing paths in the suite. To say any more about the plot would give too much away.
There is no doubt that A Comedy of Tenors is a farce with all of the requisite elements including mistaken identities, gross misunderstandings, sexual innuendoes galore, door slamming, prat falls, bed hopping, disrobing and, of course, in flagrante delicto. Nevertheless, unlike other farces, I never felt that the play jumped the shark or went too over the top at any point. Indeed, the play had a real core of verisimilitude to it no doubt created by the well-executed direction and staging, the casting, and the chemistry of the actors and their wonderful performances. And of course, great comedic material by Ken Ludwig doesn’t hurt.
Michael Kostroff (Harry Saunders) and David Josefsberg (Max) recreated the great chemistry they had in Paper Mill’s The Producers. Their comic timing and repartee with each other was impeccable. They are a great comedy team, playing off each other with great aplomb. I previously said this about John Treacy Egan, another alumnus from Paper Mill’s The Producers: “John Treacy Egan was MasterCard priceless as Franz Liebkind – his performance proving he can not only act and sing but he can dance and move – especially in a Nazi uniform!” He was American Express Platinum in this play, showing his huge girth of versatility by playing dual roles as Tito, the great tenor, and his doppelganger, Beppo, the bellhop. He truly is a quadruple threat: actor, singer, dancer and quick-change artist. Veteran actress and alumnus from Paper Mill’s Lend Me a Tenor, was wonderful as the sometimes snarky, but ultimately sagacious Maria. Ryan Silverman is pitch-perfect as the rising tenor star, Carlo, as is Jill Paice who plays his actress-wannabe girlfriend who just happens to be Maria and Tito’s daughter. Rounding out the cast is another alumnus from Lend Me a Tenor, the very talented and funny Donna English as Tito’s old girlfriend, Racon.
Don Stephenson has directed a tight, fast-paced show that brings out the best Mr. Ludwig’s farcical material. Like many of the actors, he also is alumnus of Paper Mill’s Lend Me a Tenor, having directed it a few seasons ago. His love for the play and characters is evident in his notes where he quips, “Now, I know that Tito and Maria and Max and Saunders are fictional characters, but I love all of them and couldn’t wait to find out what kind of crazy mess they would get themselves into next.”
Stage plays are usually one-offs; more amenable to revivals than sequels. So it’s nice in theatre to have a vehicle where the characters can evolve and grow and actually have an arc that transcends beyond one play. I have the inverse desire of Director Stephenson: now that I know and love the characters, I can’t wait to see how they messed up in the first place in Lend Me a Tenor.