Farce is like a soufflé: Difficult to create, but sheer delight when all the ingredients come together perfectly. Ken Ludwig, a Tony Award and Olivier Award winning playwright, is the master chef behind A Comedy of Tenors, a tasty confection set in the world of classical music, currently playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
A Comedy of Tenors is a sequel to Lend Me a Tenor, presented at the Paper Mill back in 2013. Many of the same capable farceurs in this play reprise the roles they performed in the 2013 production: Henry Saunders, the frantic producer; Max, once Saunders’ assistant who is now Saunders’ son-in-law and a tenor in his own right; and the volatile tenor Tito Morelli and his wife Maria. Director Don Stephenson, who directed the earlier play, returns to create a well-tuned Swiss watch of a production, albeit a watch that starts out over-wound and races along its madcap way up to the end of the play — and beyond!
The returning cast plays at a manic peak, displaying a fine hand in handling some of the mainstays of farce. Mistaken identities, misunderstood situations, slamming doors, and the need to keep some things very, very secret — the ensemble is excellent at keeping the action at a furious pace.
In alphabetical order, they are: Judy Blazer and John Treacy Egan as the squabbling Morellis; Donna English as Racòn, a Russian soprano who shared a brief affair with Tito before he was married; David Josefsberg as Max; Michael Kostroff as Saunders; and Jill Paice as Mimi, the Morellis’ daughter, who is having her own affair with Carlo, an up and coming challenger to Tito in the opera world, played by Ryan Silverman. There is also an eighth character, a bellhop, but I will leave his true identity as a surprise.
The operatic and concert worlds of the 1920s and 1930s were brought to life by the technical wizards at the Paper Mill Playhouse: scenic designer Michael Schweikard’s luxury hotel suite; Mariah Hale’s costumes; Stephen Terry’s light designs; and Randy Hansen’s sound designs. A special credit goes to actress Judy Blazer, doing double duty as both one of the stars and the show’s Italian and dialect coach.
Even though it was Super Bowl Sunday, A Comedy of Tenors opened to a full and appreciative house. I believe this play belongs with some of the classic farces of the stage: Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors; Feydeau’s Hotel Paradiso and A Flea in Her Ear; Sondheim, Shevelove, and Gelbart’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Michael Frayn’s Noises Off; and Ludwig’s own Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo. If you need comic relief from modern problems, you won’t find a better cure than Ken Ludwig’s madcap farce, A Comedy of Tenors.
A Comedy of Tenors is being presented by the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through February 26. For tickets and information, visit www.papermill.org