By Sanjit Maitra
Ken Ludwig came to Trinity in Michaelmas 1973, having already completed a yearat Harvard Law School. He majored in Music Theory and Composition as an undergraduate at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and then studied with Leonard Bernstein at Harvard despite – or because of – the usual Law School pressures. Trinity accepted Ken for Law, but he spent the first year studying English; although considering all the time we spent attending operas and concerts together, it could well have been Music. However, thanks no doubt to Tony Weir’s influence, he focused on Law in his second year, graduating with the LL.B in International Law in 1975.
I met Ken at dinner, probably Formal Hall, during his early days. I was in my second year of Economics, living in 4A Bridge Street. We got on very well, music and opera being common interests (despite my superficiality in these matters). His super-packed schedule did not prevent us from inviting each other to tea in our rooms, the highlights of which were Chelsea buns and the Sacher Torte from Fitzbillies, together with crumpets toasted on my electric fire. Fewer Health & Safety restrictions in
We were fortunate enough to go to Covent Garden on a few occasions – L’Elisir d’Amore was one of the operas-- accompanied by Ken’s girlfriend, Adrienne George. I recall with great pleasure the fact that they both came to a small party of mine for my 21st birthday. Although some Cambridge colleges had already become mixed, Trinity hadn’t. Ade was, therefore, one of just three females at my party (of 13)! Ken and Ade subsequently married in 1976, Ken having gained the J.D. from Harvard Law School, and they moved to Washington D.C.
What remain striking about Ken and his phenomenal success as a playwright from the mid-1980s on, aren’t just his talents as a writer and musician, but, at the risk of sounding hackneyed, his dedication, hard work and discipline. He started as a lawyer in Washington D.C. with Steptoe & Johnson in 1976 and right up to the time he left them in 1987 in order to concentrate fully on writing, he used to work on his plays between 4:30 and 8:30 every morning, after which he would trot off to practise international law. I observed this routine first-hand on the myriad occasions when Ken and Ade so kindly offered me their hospitality during the 1980s.
The best way to digest Ken’s track record and success is to go to his website (www.kenludwig.com), from which we learn that Ken is an internationally-acclaimed playwright whose work has been performed in at least 30 countries in over 20 languages. So far he has had six shows on Broadway and six in the West End. He has won two Laurence Olivier Awards, three Tony Award nominations, two Helen Hayes Awards, the Edgar Award for Best Mystery of the Year, the Southeastern Theatre Conference Distinguished Career Award, and the Edwin Forrest Award for Services to the Theatre. In addition, he has had plays commissioned by the RSC and Bristol Old Vic, and his plays have appeared at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Old Vic in London.
Ken’s first major success was Lend me a Tenor, which premiered in London in 1986, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and starring Denis Lawson and Anne Francis. Lloyd
Webber subsequently produced it on Broadway. His most recent show in London was a revival of his musical Crazy for You which opened in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and then transferred to the Novello Theatre in the West End and won an Olivier for
Best Revival of the Year.
In 2006, a profile of Ken in the London Times said ‘There is hardly a regional theatre in America that hasn’t a work of his scheduled’. Every night of the year there are several of Ken’s 20 plays in performance somewhere in the U.S., and the number of
professional and amateur productions throughout America since the late 1980s now exceeds 6,000. His plays are performed almost as frequently in Europe in translation.
His newest play is a sort of sequel to Lend Me A Tenor: it’s about opera, set in Paris, with four of the same characters. And the play he’s working on at the moment is set in Hollywood in 1939 during the making of The Wizard of Oz.
Interestingly, however, Ken’s latest work isn’t a play at all – it’s a book entitled How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. He describes the book as a labour of love. In it, he
tells parents and educators about his journey in teaching Shakespeare to his
daughter from the time she was six to the day she left for university. Ken has been a student of Shakespeare since his high-school days, and in the book he emphasises the importance of memorising passages from Shakespeare as a way to get children
to be comfortable with the language, stories and ideas of the plays.
He organises the book around 25 passages – from easy to challenging, from comedies to tragedies – and delves first into techniques for learning the passages, and second into the nuances of the passages and of the plays they represent, adding along
the way chapters on Shakespeare’s life and publication history. Ken says that his basic view is that learning Shakespeare gives students a strong moral and literary centre from which to grow; and, in addition, it gives them a leg up in reading comprehension,
public speaking and overall academic confidence.
One of the best things that Ken and I have shared over the years is our love of classical music in general and opera in particular. We both rank Mozart’s The Marriage
of Figaro as our favourite opera; Glyndebourne as the best place to see it (or see anything); and Verdi, Donizetti and the rest of the Italians as our favourite composers.
As for Ken’s proudest achievement so far, he says it’s his two years at Trinity, which gave him the joy of studying what he loved best in the most beautiful setting on earth, an opinion to which I heartily subscribe. His goal is to return to Cambridge
and teach students about the history of English and American stage comedy, an area he considers woefully neglected in academic circles. To teach Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Sheridan and Shaw to Cambridge students is, he says, his idea of heaven.