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May the farce be with you: “A Comedy of Tenors” at Paper Mill Playhouse
Through Feb 26 at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey.
Wed at 7:30PM; Thurs 1:30 & 7:30; Fri at 8PM; Sat 1:30 & 8; Sun 1:30 & 7. Tickets: 973-376-4343 or at www.papermill.org
Reviewed by Philip Dorian February 2017
Great art it’s not, but if you’re looking for a recipe for farce, all the ingredients can be found in “A Comedy of Tenors,” Ken Ludwig’s sequel to his enormously successful “Lend Me a Tenor.” Slamming doors to resounding laughter this month at Paper Mill Playhouse, this second coming of operatic tenor Tito Merelli is, for my money – and, I suggest, yours – funnier than the first. (I’m not a fan of the first play’s blackface gimmick, but that’s another matter.)
Set in a 1930s Paris hotel suite with a facetiously drawn Eiffel Tower seen out the window, harried impresario Henry Saunders is producing an operatic concert in a soccer stadium. With an ensemble of four tenors, one fiery wife, a canoodling young couple and a predatory ex-lover all entangled in a roundelay of misunderstood relationships, the play defies one’s ability (okay, mine) to summarize it coherently. Playwright Ludwig’s ability, however, to create such a tangle and then untangle it with dexterity, is unquestioned.
From left, John Treacy Egan, Michael Kostroff and David Josefsberg
One example: Tito covertly observes his wife in what appears to be a compromising situation with a younger man. While the episode is harmless, the scene is written, staged and acted in a way that invites misunderstanding. It’s not only hilarious by itself, it figures into equally amusing developments down the road.
Along with slam-able doors (there are five here), most farce recipes call for quick costume changes (innumerable), physical action (plenty) and pinpoint timing (impeccable). Side dishes include scantily-clad folks in compromising situations (yup) and a first-act curtain that presages an improbable second act, exemplified here by an outrageous development that leads to high-style hi-jinks.
The cast and direction are nigh flawless. As Tito and his wife, John Treacy Egan and Judy Blazer somehow manage to convey a warm bond even as they rail at each other. Impresario Saunders is a latter-day Mr. Bluster; Michael Kostroff plays him just so. Jill Paice and Ryan Silverman are delightful as young lovers caught with their pants down (literally), and David Josefsberg gets a workout as Max, the would-be voice of sanity. Donna English is a vamp to reckon with. (“Oh, those animal sounds,” she pants after an assignation. “That was you,” she’s informed.)
Director Don Stephenson’s eye and ear for rapid-fire comical imagery is unerring. There’s not a misstep in the staging or an ill-timed line reading. Michael Schweikardt’s set is more than serviceable (those doors!) and Mariah Hale’s costumes are 1930s-stylish. Alexander Kariotis is credited with musical direction and arrangements; if all he did was transpose Alfredo and Violetta’s “La Traviata” duet, “Libiamo…,” into a three-tenor trio, this shout-out is well deserved.
What did I say at the top? That “A Comedy of Tenors” is not great art? You know what? Maybe it is.
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