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August 10, 2009

For the Love of Opera

teatro-la-fenice%20interior%20small.jpgI’ve been listening to tons of opera lately. It’s interesting how opera was one of the early loves of my life, then faded a little into the background as I spent about ten years reading every comic play in existence, and has now come back into my life with a bang. Partly this is because my kids are such wonderful musicians, and it’s been a treat introducing them to my favorite operas.

We have a subscription this coming season for The Washington Opera and I can’t wait till it starts. Our first, I think, is “The Barber of Seville.” (Admittedly, we all crack up when we hear the big Figaro aria because we always think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he sings it.)

CountAlmavivaGeraldFinleysmall.jpgMy favorite opera of all time has to be Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, but Verdi’s Falstaff runs it a mighty close second. Tonight we were watching our favorite DVD of The Marriage of Figaro. It has Gerald Finley as Figaro and Alison Hagley as Susanna (she’s sublime) and it’s a genuine work of art. The opening scene where Figaro is measuring the room for the marriage bed is both hilarious and touching at the same time. Renee Fleming plays the Countess, Andreas Schmidt is the Count and Bernard Haitink conducts. I just couldn’t recommend it more highly. (A company called Kultur sells it and I assume it’s still in print.)

I was a music composition and theory major in college as a result of my love for opera. And from there everything just deepened. The biggest thrill of my musical life was studying with Leonard Bernstein. Be still my heart. I wish I could go back and do it again.

Lend Me A Tenor, of course, is about the world of opera; and I wrote it partly to honor that world that I loved so much. I remember that during the run of Tenor on Broadway I used it as the basis for a question on The Texaco Opera Quiz – and they put it on the air and I was thrilled to bits. (And I got some free CDs out of it.)

I don’t know why I fell in love with opera so early. It was just love at first listen. I often wonder about my passion for all things Shakespeare in the same way. I don’t know why I started loving it at such a young age – I heard the first few words and my eyes started spinning around in my head.

Pretty much the earliest Shakespeare I ever heard was a recording of Richard Burton’s Hamlet. For whatever reason, I bought the LPs and I listened to them so much that I literally wore out the plastic. (I recently acquired a new set of the LPs for old time’s sake through eBay – though the performance is now available on DVD.) cyril2small.jpgOne of my fondest recollections of my father is when I was tiny and he shlepped me to a movie theatre to see a re-release of the movie of Julius Caesar with James Mason, John Gielgud and Marlon Brando. He had no more interest than the man in the moon, but he took me anyway. What a dad. (Only rivaled by my mom taking me backstage in New York to meet the great actor/director Cyril Ritchard (pictured right) – where opera and plays met in a single, wonderful man. What a mom.)

So now I’m heading back to Act Two of Marriage of Figaro. It may keep us up all night, but what a way to spend the summer.

July 12, 2009

Welcome to My New Blog

kenJackPicsmall.jpgI plan to use this space to keep in touch with you, post information on recent and upcoming projects—including your productions of my plays—and share recommendations and general musings. I love hearing from you, so if you have questions you'd like me to answer, or things you'd like me to discuss in this blog, please send them along through the "Ask Ken a Question" link on the homepage or in the box on the right.

Latest news: I just finished a new comedy, entitled A Fox On The Fairway. It’s about golf and sex. I love golf. I’m terrible at it and only get to play about five times a year. I have no comment about sex.

The play opens as underdog Quail Valley Country Club prepares to take on arch-rival Crouching Squirrel in this year’s Annual Inter-Club Golf Tournament. With a sizable wager at stake, the contest plays out amidst three love affairs, a disappearing diamond, objectionable sweaters and an exploding Ming vase.

Fox, as I now call it, is a six-character comedy in the style of Lend Me A Tenor. I wrote it as a tribute to the great English farces of the 1930s and 40s like See How They Run and When We Are Married that I love so much. I felt moved to write it as an antidote to the times we live in, to try and move the ball a trifle closer to the sanity and good fellowship we all deserve.

signaturetheatre.jpgThe first reading of the play was last week at Signature Theatre (right) in Arlington, Virginia. (They won the 2009 Regional Theatre Tony Award.) Eric Schaeffer, the Artistic Director of Signature, graciously gave me 29 hours of rehearsal and performance time in their main stage space, and the performance was last Thursday night to a packed house.

John Rando (who helmed the world premiere of my play Be My Baby at the Alley Theatre a couple of years ago) came down from New York to direct, and Signature’s associate director, Michael Baron, helped me assemble a cast of wonderful actors, Holly-Twyford.jpgincluding Holly Twyford (left), Chris Bloch, Valerie Leonard, Margo Seibert, Cody Nickell & Sam Ludwig. Kerry Epstien was our intrepid stage manager, Patrick Jaffke was her assistant, Will Lurie read the stage directions and Matt Rowe did the sound. Many thanks to everyone involved. The staff at the Signature is beyond compare.

It was a riotously fun evening and turned out to be a terrific way to launch the play. Everyone seemed to love it (knock wood) and I’m about to put a few finishing touches on it and launch it out into the world.

Back to work now. Please let me know what you think of my having a blog like this. Send me questions and I’ll write more soon. Many thanks.