Ken Ludwig writes ‘Twas the Night before Christmas for Adventure Theatre
BY JAYNE BLANCHARD
For DC Theatre Scene
No worries about writer’s block or evoking the muse for Washington author Ken Ludwig.
In addition to penning ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, a world premiere holiday children’s show for Adventure Theatre, the prolific playwright debuts a comedy at a high school in Fairfax designed for younger drama departments and community theaters, premieres a new comic mystery at the Cleveland Playhouse, puts finishing touches on a book about teaching tots about Shakespeare, and this fall, went back and wrote a new ending for the West End revival of his prize-winning Broadway show Crazy For You.
Oh yes, and he has ideas for the next three plays already percolating in his head.
This week, however, Mr. Ludwig is concentrating on getting his three latest world premieres up and running. The first, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, the collaboration with Adventure Theatre, grew out of a chance encounter with artistic director Michael J. Bobbitt and a long-standing labor of love—cooking up bedtime stories for his two children.
“This is my first children’s show,” said the playwright, who has entertained audiences since the 1980s with his works Lend Me A Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, Twentieth Century, Shakespeare in Hollywood (which was developed at Arena Stage),and The Beaux Stratagem, which played at Shakespeare Theatre. Other local venues for Ludwigian productions include Signature Theatre–the site for his homage to farces, A Fox on the Fareway, Ford’s Theatre which produced Leading Ladies and Round House, home of his adaptation of Treasure Island.
“I was in New York for a convention over a year ago and my play publisher, Samuel French, set up a stall for me and Michael Bobbitt wandered by.
Mr. Bobbitt had choreographed his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at the Kennedy Center a few years back. “He asked me if I would do the children’s show and I said ‘Absolutely!’ even though I had nothing in mind,” he said. “We spent some time together later sifting through ideas and looking at books that were both copyrighted and in the public domain and we thought Clement Moore’s poem may be a good starting-off point.”
However, Adventure Theatre’s production will not be a faithful rendering of the poet’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” — although not a creature will be stirring, not even a mouse. “We use it as a springboard to tell the story of a mouse, an elf and a little girl who get together and save Christmas,” Mr. Ludwig explained.
Hold the mistletoe—what happens to the ho-ho-ho? “Well, there’s this angry elf who stole Santa’s sleigh and sold it to Walmart,” he said. “Next, he steals the Naughty and Nice list—so Christmas is in jeopardy.”
In addition to an elf who clearly has some authority issues to work out and the afore-mentioned heroic trio, the play also features old jolly St. Nick himself. “A lot of it came from the bedtime stories I made up for my kids through the years,” he said. “Doing that is the joy of being a parent.”
Kibitzing with a different set of young people was the impetus for Mr. Ludwig’s other new play, Midsummer/Jersey, which combines Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the attitudes, abs and big hair attributed to the Jersey Shore. The comedy opened the 17th of this month at James Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va., and Mr. Ludwig wrote the play as a merry experiment to see if the show would become popular on the high school, college and community theater circuit.
“The last time I worked with high schools I was in high school. It is the exact opposite of a commercial play—because high schools and colleges need lots of roles, especially for females. So to write 20 to 25 individual parts was a challenge and a luxury,” he said.
Midsummer/Jersey shows a group of “really bored, sometimes bad and sexy kids disobeying their parents. It was fun to see these fundamentally good kids playing them and really inhabiting that world for two hours,” he continued. “And the kids were great—so eager, so smart. Professional actors often double- or triple-think everything and put spins on certain lines. The kids just get out there and do it with such honesty. It is very refreshing.”
Mr. Ludwig returns to the land of Actors’ Equity with The Games Afoot, a comedy-thriller that bows at the Cleveland Playhouse November 25th under the direction of Aaron Posner, who created such memorable productions locally at the Folger Theater and other area locales.
He recently got back from London for the premiere of Crazy for You, which he deems “the biggest, most beautiful, best revival ever.”
“The director [Timothy Sheader] asked me if I would lift the ending to a higher level and I said I’d like to try,” Mr. Ludwig said. “So I went back to the drawing board and came up with something that we ended up putting in the third preview. From that moment on, we knew we had nailed it and I ended up getting the best set of reviews I’ve ever had in my career. There’s lots of talk about it coming to Broadway.”
Also piling up on his holiday work plate is a book due to his publishers at Crown. “It’s called ‘How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare’ and it memorializes what I did with my kids throughout their lives. I enjoyed every second of teaching Shakespeare to them and then writing a book about it.”
That’s a lot of premieres for one guy. “Funny thing is, I never have had opening night jitters,” he said. “I never get nervous. I actually enjoy opening nights. Once I think the play through, get a handle on what I want to do and make sure the actors are well-prepared, I just let it go.”