"A Comedy of Tenors" Is Off Key

Culture Watch
tags: theater review, Comedy of Tenors

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

Playwright Ken Ludwig’s play Lend Me a Tenor was a huge hit and won a Tony Award in the 1980s, so he naturally sat down and wrote a sequel, A Comedy of Tenors. The sequel involves some of the same type of characters in the first play, features much slapstick comedy, door slamming, misdirection, false identities, mistaken identities and lots of other identities, a soccer stadium filled with tens of thousands of music fans and the backdrop of 1935 Paris. What could go wrong?


The play, a farce, which just opened at the Paper Mill Playhouse, in Millburn, N.J., is a story about tenors that is really off key. It is the story of a tenors’ concert, real tenors, substitute tenors, wives, girlfriends and a harried manager, Harry Saunders. It is fast paced, it tries to be funny and it takes place on a lovely set. But it is really out of tune.

The story is simple. Tenors argue and revolt and a manger has no group to put on his stage for a concert that is just hours away. What to do? Suddenly, he discovers that a porter in the hotel is a terrific singer and puts him into the show. The other tenors argue with each other and then come back to the stage. In the meantime, we meet a group of women, wives, girlfriends and people, I assume, that just wandered in off the street. They race about, yell, scream, build up tension and cavort towards a surprise ending. Well, at least they are supposed to do all of that. They do not.

The storyline is a decent one, and the idea of a show about Paris in 1935 is seductive. I mean this is Paris just before the start of World War II – the lovely women dancers at the sizzling night clubs, the Seine in springtime, the outdoor cafes at night time, the Eiffel Tower all the time. What do you see of Paris? Nothing. You don’t even see the soccer stadium. What a loss.

Director Don Stephenson does yeoman work on the play and he gets very good performances from everybody in the cast – Michael Kostroff, David Josefsberg, Judy Blazer, John Treacy Egan, Jill Paice, Ryan Silverman and Donna English. The problem is not the director or the casts, but Ludwig’s script. I think he saw too many Marx Brother movies and tried to write one of his own.

You want to hear good music? Buy a Pavarotti CD.

PRODUCTION: Sets: Michael Schweikardt, Costumes: Maria Hale, Lighting: Stephen Terry, Sound: Randy Hansen. The play is directed by Don Stephenson. It runs through February 26.

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