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Lisa Brescia (Tatiana Racón) and Bradley Dean (Tito), Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors’ @ClevePlayHouse

By Laura Kennelly for CoolCleveland.com

[Enter Laughing.] Launching the new season with laughs, the Cleveland Play House’s world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s delicious A Comedy of Tenors set just the right tone (beautifully operatic, of course).

Funny and quickly paced, even before the athletic and frothy recap at the end, the appealing cast raced about the beautiful, versatile set (even the windows played a role!) and wove a web of mishaps, disguise, lies and (ultimately) friendship and love to near guarantee to lift and a smile to even the grumpiest soul. Director Stephen Wadsworth clearly knows how to choreograph the comedic dance.

While not necessary, it doesn’t hurt to have seen Ludwig’s earlier Tony Award-winning work Lend Me a Tenor (performed last season at the Beck Center) since the story continues where that story left off. It doesn’t spoil things at all that certain plot devices from the earlier show repeat. Funny the first time; funny again.

The story: Cleveland-based producer Henry Saunders (played with fine bluster by Ron Orbach) wants three world-famous tenors to star in a 1930’s Paris super-concert. Of course he must include the lovably explosive Italian tenor Tito Merelli (Bradley Dean), and that spells trouble and romantic fireworks since his famously dramatic wife Maria (a vibrant Antoinette LaVecchia) travels with him.

It’s a terrific cast overall. Dean gets special props for his persuasive portrayal not only of Tito, but of Tito’s doppelganger, the hapless hotel bellhop. I actually had to check the program at intermission to be absolutely sure there wasn’t another actor playing that character (yes, I am the perfect audience, willing in an instant to suspend all disbelief). Very clever, very funny.

Rob McClure’s nervously anxious Max (Saunder’s ex-assistant, now son-in-law) ably shows why expectant fathers should not fly to Paris and why it’s very very difficult to work for big producer Saunders. Young lovers Mimi (the sprightly Kristen Martin) and Carlo (gallant Bobby Conte Thornton) make us care for them. As the glamourous Tatiana, a further love complication, Lisa Brescia creates a vamp with a heart of gold.

Ludwig’s quibbles to the press about whether the work is a farce (a term he modifies with “mere”) or a “comedy” (the term he prefers) seem irrelevant. My requirement for a fine night at the theater? “Just make me laugh.” This brilliantly funny play does that exceedingly well. It’s especially recommended for opera and musical comedy fans who want an “inside look” at the business side of “fine art.”

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