I’m sure plays more profound than “A Comedy of Tenors” will be produced in New Jersey this year. And there surely will be plays more poetic, more ingeniously plotted, more artistically daring.
But I doubt there will be a play that will pack more laughs into a couple of hours.
Ken Ludwig’s sequel to his 1989 hit “Lend Me a Tenor” is, like that play, an old-fashioned farce, with lots of mistaken identity, slamming doors and broad physical humor.
“This comes perilously close to French farce,” says one character, early on, uttering what many in the audience are surely thinking.
Still, it’s a surefire formula for success, if executed with enough wit and energy. And this play (and this cast and crew) have those qualities in abundance.
In a clever move, director Don Stephenson has reassembled the cast of the 2013 Paper Mill production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” using six of its eight actors (with four of them playing the same character). They are joined by Ryan Silverman, playing Carlo — the charismatic young tenor who threatens to upstage the famous middle-aged tenor Tito (John Treacy Egan), and who also happens to be having an affair with Tito’s 25-year-old daughter, Mimi (Jill Paice).
The setting of this play (which premiered at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton in 2015) is a luxurious hotel suite in Paris, where Tito is getting ready for a huge “Three Tenors” concert that will also feature his son-in-law Max (David Josefsberg) and a Swedish tenor whose last minute cancellation sets in motion the comedy of errors referred to in the play’s title.
The show’s harried producer, Saunders (Michael Kostroff), who is attempting nothing less than to assemble “the biggest concert in the history of opera” (as he puts it), hires Carlo as a replacement. But this does not sit well with Tito — especially after he mistakenly “discovers” that Carlo is having an affair with his wife, Maria (Judy Blazer).
Both Tito and Carlos quit, leaving the desperate (and frequently apoplectic) Saunders to change the concert to a “Two Tenors” show featuring Max and a bellhop, Beppo (also played by Egan), who magically looks like Tito and sings just as beautifully as well, too.
More chaos ensues when Tito’s old flame Racón (Donna English) shows up, unexpectedly, and mistakenly believes Beppo is Tito. Racón is eager to resume the relationship, and Beppo is quite happy to play along.
Eventually, after all the unexpected twists and turns, it all works out, of course. Warring parties are reconciled, and the concert takes place more or less the way it was originally intended to.
Among the actors, Egan deserves special credit, both for making Tito and Beppo totally distinct characters, and for negotiating the frequent, quick costume changes that are required. And he, Silverman and Josefsberg all sing well enough, in a scene where the three tenors work out some of their parts, that it’s purely enjoyable on a musical level — for a moment, at least, before the next misunderstanding arises, and the frenzied fighting and exuberant clowning resumes.
“A Comedy of Tenors” runs at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through Feb. 26; visit papermill.org.