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Frank Ferrante as Tito in A Comedy Of Tenors at

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‘Comedy of Tenors’: Affectionate, madcap, tiptop farce

It may help if you have seen Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor (1986), but his sort-of-sequel A Comedy of Tenors (2015), now running at the Walnut Street Theatre under director Frank Ferrante, stands on its own. By the time this delicious 100-minute farce ends, you feel a need to catch your breath. God knows what the racing performers are feeling.

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We are back in 1930s Paris. The stage presents us with an elegant French hotel room awash in color, thanks to the set design of David P. Gordon and the costumes of Mary Folino. Saunders, a harried producer, is trying to stage “the concert of the century.” But three hours before the concert is to start, star tenor Tito Merelli backs out when he mistakenly thinks wife Maria is having an affair with tenor Carlo. Carlo is really having an affair with Tito’s daughter Mimi. Got all that? And we are just getting started.

It feels a bit like a homecoming, with the stage full of Walnut Theatre regulars. Perennial favorite Ferrante does riotous double duty as Tito and Beppo, a look-alike bellhop who replaces Tito as opera singer. Other Walnut regulars are Scott Greer as Saunders and Ben Dibble as Max, his beleaguered assistant and son-in-law. Karen Peake and Alanna J. Smith play Maria and Mimi, respectively, while Jacob Tischler tackles tenor Carlo. The only Walnut Street newcomer is Dreya Weber as Tatiana Racon, Tito’s sultry Russian lover.

The opening act is pleasantly amusing but leaves you little prepared for the hilarity to follow; the dizzying pace is so engaging you lose your sense of time. The cast need all those hotel room doors, as a mushrooming frenzy turns into a kind of human shell game. You wonder where Tito and Beppo are, which door they will pop out of, and how Ferrante can change his clothes so fast. And after all the madcap and mayhem, wordplay, parody, wit, and slapstick, after all the wrongful perceptions and mistaken identities, Ludwig sets his topsy-turvy world right.

His humor is infectious and unpretentious. Remarks like “In Russia, everyone is lonely,” and “From this moment on nothing can go wrong” are not witty on the surface. But in the context of Ludwig’s staged bedlam they are side-splitting. And while a lot of farce and parody comes across as vicious, Ludwig is affectionate toward his characters.

That sense of good will shines through in the grand finale, where the stage is miraculously transformed into an opera hall. More than just another “happy ending,” you feel joyfully teary and you do not quite know why.

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