The Alley Theatre kicks off its 2022–23 season with a good ol’ fashioned screwball comedy, and this time it’s the ladies who are in charge. Ken Ludwig’s side-splitting Lend Me a Soprano is a new take on his 1980s classic Lend Me a Tenor with flipped gender roles.
“It’s a wonderful thing that Ken has done in going back to one of his own plays and realizing there were ways to improve it, and also to reflect a more current state of mind in the world,” says actor Ellen Harvey, who plays an opera company manager.
Set in 1934, the play features world-class soprano Elena Firenzi (played by Alexandra Silber) starring for a one-night-only production of Carmen. Surrounding the demanding diva is company manager Lucille Wiley (Harvey), her passionate, jealous husband (Orlando Arriaga), and her mousy assistant Jo (Mia Pinero).
In contemplating the role reversals, Harvey suggests there’s room for exploration given the new dynamics of the characters, and she says the show comes at just the right time. “Even though it’s the 1930s, it gives women all the power. There’s a certain empathy that women naturally bring to their characters and to their work, so it’s not all slamming doors and slapstick.
“There’s a lot of depth in this, as well. Right now, in this country and this world, we need to be able to laugh—especially with what we’ve just been through,” she says.
Although the source material is decades old, Ludwig’s dynamic, adaptable script still allows for nuances to mirror today’s norms.
“We have a different sensibility nowadays. What Ken has done brilliantly is to understand the structure of the original play’s framework and build upon it. In many ways, it might be funnier because it also puts the men in the play in a different perspective,” she says.
Laughs aplenty are what we would expect from the prolific comedy maker. Ludwig is the mastermind behind recent Alley hits The Three Musketeers and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, as well as titles like Crazy for You and An American in Paris.
Since this Alley season opener doubles as the world premiere for Ludwig’s new work, the writer is actively participating in the final rehearsals to fine-tune the work, including taking advice from the leading ladies.
“My input is going to be noted,” Harvey adds. “If I say, ‘Ken, would this character rather use this colloquialism?’ Ken might say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great. Put that in.’ We feel like we are a tiny part of the collaboration with his genius. For me, it’s an enormous honor.”
As a veteran performer with credits including Broadway’s The Music Man and The Phantom of the Opera and national tours of Mamma Mia! and Mary Poppins, Harvey appreciates the return to theater’s pre-pandemic vigor.
“For all of us that have been acting in our living rooms for the last few years, there is nothing like live theater. With live theater, especially a comedy, you breathe together and there’s an energy and a commitment,” she explains. “You’re including a new member of the cast every night, which is the audience. You have to be present, you have to be awake, you have to be giving, and the reward for live theater is tenfold.”
WHERE: The Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue