Broadway classics shine in ‘Lend Me a Tenor,’ ‘School of Rock’

The Footlight Player’s production of “Lend Me a Tenor” features (from left) Kevin Deese, E. Karl Bunch, Anne Reid and Billy Turner.

It was only Ken Ludwig’s second production, a farce set around an opera in Cleveland, that changed everything from then until now for the playwright.

The year was 1986, and “Lend Me a Tenor” had just made its West End premiere. At the time, Ludwig was a little-known playwright from Pennsylvania, more equipped for practicing law than writing for theater. He hadn’t departed his academic pursuits in law, having received degrees from Haverford College, Harvard Law School and Trinity College at Cambridge, long before his play had critics hailing him as one of the living greats.

By the time “Lend Me a Tenor” wrapped its yearlong Broadway run in 1990, the play had earned nine Tony Award nominations and two wins, a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Comedy, and four wins and six nominations for the Drama Desk Award, among others.

The play had The New York Times deeming it one of the two greatest farces by a living writer and “one of the classic comedies of the 20th century” by The Washington Post, sealing Ludwig’s name in playwright history ahead of his numerous accolades still to come.

And while Ludwig has gone on to pen nearly two dozen plays, for which he has earned two Laurence Olivier Awards, two Helen Hayes Awards and an Edwin Forrest Award for his services to the American theater, “Lend Me a Tenor” remains as his most well-known work.

A split-stage set design allows audiences to follow the eight-character cast simultaneously, as a sequence of disasters transpire in two separate hotel rooms.

It’s the biggest opening night in the Cleveland Grand Opera Company’s history, and company manager Harry Saunders has pulled off something of a miracle for the sold-out event. He’s secured world-renowned opera tenor Tito Merelli for the lead role in the company’s production of “Otello,” the Giuseppe Verdi opera based on the Shakespeare classic.

But a series of misunderstandings and absurdity soon has Max, Harry’s apprehensive, but talented assistant, desperately thrust into the spotlight to save the company’s future and win the heart of Harry’s opera-loving daughter, Maggie.

Don Bradenburg directs the Footlight production, starring Lisa Benson, E. Karl Bunch, Kevin Deese, Lorilyn Harper, Abby Sensenbaugh, Anne Reid, Billy Turner and Tells Zecopoulos.

“Lend Me a Tenor” will continue its run at the Footlight Theatre, 20 Queen St., for eight more shows this weekend and next. Thursday-Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 for students, $27 for seniors and military and $30 for adults.

Purchase tickets online at www.FootlightPlayers.net or call the Footlight Players box office at 843-722-4487.

It was one of only 300 educational institutions in the world chosen to produce the modern classic. Now a North Charleston theater company is preparing for its final weekend performing its production of “School of Rock,” the same weekend the hit Broadway show concludes its run in Manhattan.

South of Broadway Theatre Company was among the relative handful of those chosen by acclaimed composer Andrew Lloyd Weber to perform the production, coming on the heels of the show’s four-month stint on Broadway.

Weber has been a strong advocate for arts education throughout his storied career, one that spans five decades and includes such works as “Cats,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Evita” and a host of others.

Based on the 2003 film of the same name, “School of Rock” follows Dewey, a hapless but equally determined guitarist, whose efforts to avoid eviction have landed him a substitute teaching position at a prestigious prep school.

Driven by his own musical passions and performance ambitions, Dewey embarks on his most fulfilling gig yet, as he works to transform a spiritless class into a show-stopping rock ’n’ roll phenomenon.

South of Broadway’s production features a cast whose members are all under the age of 17, including a rock quintet that performs the score live.

“School of Rock” will hold its final performances at the South of Broadway theater, 1080 East Montague Ave., Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for youth and are available for purchase online at www.SouthofBroadway.com or by calling 843-745-0317. Shows begin at 7 p.m.