Arts & Culture

'Tenors' back for slapstick sequel at Old Creamery Theatre

NIKKI SCHEEL

Mistaken identities are among the audience delights and actors’ challenges in “A Comedy of Tenors,” Ken Ludwig’s sequel to “Lend Me a Tenor.” Sean McCall stars in the new farce, which runs Sept. 6 to 30 at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana.
NIKKI SCHEEL Mistaken identities are among the audience delights and actors’ challenges in “A Comedy of Tenors,” Ken Ludwig’s sequel to “Lend Me a Tenor.” Sean McCall stars in the new farce, which runs Sept. 6 to 30 at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana.
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When one door opens, another one closes throughout life. That just happens a little more often in a farce.

Slamming doors are like another character in “A Comedy of Tenors,” Ken Ludwig’s follow-up to his perennially popular “Lend Me a Tenor.” The sequel opens Sept. 6 and continues through Sept. 30 at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana.

All of the action takes place in a posh Parisian hotel suite in 1930, where love triangles square off as a cast of tenors, “hot and cold running lovers” and others gather for “the concert of the century.” A stadium full of cheering opera fans eagerly awaits, but will the hotel high-jinks hijack the operation?

It’s the kind of madcap mayhem that plays to the Old Creamery’s strengths, according to Sean McCall, 52, of Walford, the professional troupe’s artistic director and one of the stars of the show.

“People turn to us most often to laugh, whether that’s a musical comedy or whether it’s a comedy like this,” he said. “I think the Creamery has been around now for 47 seasons because people know when they come to us that we’re probably going to give them a couple of hours of escape.

“Things like (the recent drama) ‘Tin Woman’ make them think a little more than they might have originally thought they wanted to, but we’ve gotten great response to a show like that.

“But in terms of professionals performing good material, I think that’s what people have come to expect with us, and that is what this show will deliver.”

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McCall noted he’s moved “up the opera ladder” with this show. He came to the Old Creamery 26 years ago for “Lend Me a Tenor.” He played Max, an opera assistant who steps into the role of Othello when it’s feared the show’s international star and ladies’ man, the volatile Tito Merelli, has died. Naturally, the divo’s not dead, and more mayhem ensues as each is mistaken for the other.

McCall played Max again when the Old Creamery brought back the show in 2006. For the sequel, however, he’s stepping into Merelli’s mercurial ego — and another case of mistaken identity that throws everything over the top.

Max, Tito and his jealous wife, Maria, are back for more, as is the Cleveland Grand Opera’s general manager, Henry Saunders. This time around, Saunders is organizing a concert titled “The Three Tenors,” to be staged in an Olympic stadium built in Paris in the early 20th century. The musical threesome features Tito, Max and a Swedish singer who ends up exiting the show, opening the door for a young tenor Tito despises — his daughter’s boyfriend — adding yet another layer of angst.

“Tito’s pretty angry most of the time,” McCall said. “He’s mostly upset that he’s aging as a tenor and there are up-and-coming younger tenors pushing him out of the limelight.”

Don’t let the play’s title fool you. “A Comedy of Tenors” isn’t a musical.

“It’s a comedy set in the musical world of opera,” McCall said. “It’s not even technically a play with music. It’s a comedy. (Ludwig’s) just saddled us with ‘tenor’ in the title. It’s a comedy first.”

With lots of ins and outs.

The action unfolds in the “massive” sitting room flanked by bedrooms in a suite at the Ritz. As a bonus, the doors leading to a patio, balcony and hallway are perfect for slamming — “especially when you’ve got volatile Italians like Tito and Maria,” McCall said.

“The doors become another character. They swing open at the right time, swing closed at the right time (and) they smack the right person in the face and knock them out.”

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McCall and company specialize in farces. While British playwrights have been writing those for years, Ludwig creates American farces, playing off language and jokes American audiences can more easily grasp, without having to figure out foreign figures of speech.

“He’s very smart with his jokes,” McCall said of the playwright, but amid the American slapstick is a nod to the British Bard’s “A Comedy of Errors.”

All of tomfoolery requires the actors to bite down with their comedy chops.

“It starts funny and gets funnier,” McCall said. “You don’t have to wait for a lot of exposition with Ludwig before some funny stuff starts to happen.”

That’s easy for the audiences, but tough for the actors.

When asked which is harder, comedy or drama, McCall was quick with his answer.

“I don’t think there’s any question that comedy is harder,” he said.

“Somebody said, ‘Dying is easy, comedy’s harder.’ It’s true, and I think most actors that do both will tell you that the skill that’s required to pull off a punch line or set up and joke and execute it correctly, make it look effortless and make it seem like it’s just tumbling out of your mouth, instead of well-crafted words by a playwright that you have memorized meticulously and are trying to deliver flawlessly — that’s just a lot tougher than hooking yourself into honest emotion and letting the tears come out.

“Not that they don’t both have their place,” he said, “but I would almost bet Meryl Streep would tell you the same thing — that sometimes it’s the comedies that are just a little tougher.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

GET OUT!

WHAT; “A Comedy of Tenors”

WHERE: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana

WHEN: Sept. 6 to 30; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday

TICKETS: $31.50 adults, $19.50 students; box office, (319) 622-6262 or Oldcreamery.com

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