The Drama Behind ‘A Comedy of Tenors’

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Matthew Conlon, Connor Antico and Edward A. Brennan in "A Comedy of Tenors." Tom Kochie photo

For Diana Marbury, there are no laughs without the drama behind them in “A Comedy of Tenors.”

It had been 25 years since the Hampton Theatre Company artistic director saw the cast of familiar names in her script. There is world-famous tenor Tito Merelli and his hot-blooded wife, Maria; Saunders, who is general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, and his assistant, Max.

The mix-up between them — a case of mistaken identities that soon unravels — won the Ken Ludwig play three Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards in 1989, and staged in Quogue four years later.

It was a different time and a different company then, when Marbury played her role as Maria. And her good friend, artistic director Jane Stanton, was still alive.

“I wasn’t sure how I would feel about ‘A Comedy of Tenors’ — which is the follow-up to ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ — because the character of Maria, I have a lot of attachment to her,” Marbury said. “I did it with Jane Stanton back in the day, and I also have feelings around that because she was a wonderful part of the Hampton Theatre Company and a wonderful part of my life for many years. And she’s now passed. So those are some of the mixed feelings. It touches one’s heartstrings a little bit.”

Now the play’s director, Marbury has learned to let Maria go — while keeping the memory of her friend with her — to bring “A Comedy of Tenors” to life, opening the 2018-19 season on Thursday, October 25, at the Quogue Community Hall.

It’s 1930s Paris, just two days after the action of “Lend Me a Tenor,” and the stage is set for the concert of the century, unless Tito and Maria find a way to derail it.

“This play is definitely more complex than the initial ‘Lend Me a Tenor.’ Sometimes I think playwrights write plays just to challenge directors,” Marbury said. “It has all the same ideas attached to it. It’s a transcendent comedy and I think our world is in desperate need of a little joy. Everybody’s so caught up in all the bad news. It takes you out of your news-absorbing brain for a few minutes and gives you a little romp.

“This will kick off the season with a little pizzazz, a little fun. I’ve got a really wonderful cast and they’re doing a wonderful job with the play. It’s almost like getting the machine oiled, getting it ready to go forward, starting with this. Everybody will then be geared up for what comes next.”

When “A Comedy of Tenors” closes on Sunday, November 11, the theater company will reset for Ernest Thompson’s drama “On Golden Pond,” directed by Andrew Botsford, from January 10 to 27 and the Tony Award-winning musical “Man of La Mancha” staging March 21 to April 7, before closing with Noël Coward’s “Private Lives,” directed by George A. Loizides from May 23 to June 9.

“Whenever we get back into the theater mode after the summer, you get on this rollercoaster and you just strap yourself in and get ready for the ride, because it becomes a very busy time right on through to June,” Marbury said. “We’re all on that rollercoaster right now. I’ve got to wrap up some flowers and put my tongue — which is a prop in the play — on the plate, and get ready for what’s next.”

She laughed. “Let the farce begin. I think Karl Marx said something like, ‘History repeats itself first as tragedy and second as farce.’”

Hampton Theatre Company will open its 2018-19 season with “A Comedy of Tenors” on Thursday, October 25, at 7 p.m. at Quogue Community Hall, located at 125 Jessup Avenue in Quogue. Additional performances will be held on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through November 11, with a matinee at 2:30 p.m. on November 10. 

Tickets are $30, $25 for seniors except Saturday nights, $20 for under age 35 with ID, and $10 for students under age 21. For more information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit hamptontheatre.org.

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