By Rachelle N. Hughes
Friendship, creativity, and trust between original playwright Ken Ludwig and Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical co-creators—librettist Peter Sham and composer Brad Carroll—launched the 2007 Utah Shakespeare Festival’s world premiere of the first musical based on Ken Ludwig’s hit Broadway comedy, Lend Me a Tenor.
Lend Me A Tenor is the most produced contemporary comedy in the world,” said Sham. So it was an enormous surprise to the Sham and Carroll team that in the years since its debut on Broadway they were the first to approach Ludwig about doing a musical adaptation of this well-loved play.
Ken Ludwig was born in York, Pennsylvania and started his education at Haverford College where he wrote his first theatrical works produced before a theatrical audience. But Ludwig then headed in a non-theatrical direction and attended Harvard Law School where he earned his J.D and Cambridge University where he finished his law education. He practiced law for a time and still remains “Of Council” at the firm of Steptoe and Johnson. Ludwig did not ignore his love of theatre during his education and he studied both Shakespeare and musical theatre. One of his mentors includes Leonard Bernstein (“Ken Ludwig,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Ludwig, February 3, 2007).
Deciding to focus his energy on theatre paid off for Ludwig. As Sham says, “He’s one of the really big playwrights.” His works which have received international acclaim and a bevy of awards, including Tony awards, the Laurence Olivier award, two Helen Hayes awards, Drama Desks Awards, and the Outer Critics’ Circle Award include Crazy for You, Moon over Buffalo, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Leading Ladies, Be My Baby, Shakespeare in Hollywood(commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company), and Treasure Island. For television, he co-wrote the 1990 Kennedy Honors for CBS and a television pilot for Carol Channing. For film he wrote All Shook Up for Touchstone Pictures and Frank Oz. His most recent project is a stage adaptation of the George and Ira Gershwin film An American in Paris, which he is working on now. Ludwig lives in Washington D.C. with his wife Adrienne George and his two young children. Ludwig met Sham for the first time when Sham invited him to a production of Lend Me a Tenor at the Eichelberger Performing Arts Center in Hanover, Pennsylvania, where Sham was the artistic director. That invitation five years ago was the beginning of a friendship that endures today.
In 2004, Sham and Carroll became collaborators for the first time when they conceived the idea of A Christmas Carol: On the Air in the most unlikely of places, the Festival parking lot. They pitched their idea to the Festival producers who had been looking for a way to expand into the holiday season. “From the first day we pitched the idea to the opening night was ten weeks in developing the piece” said Carroll. “That first year it hit some nerve in the community. Now people come from all over to see the show.”
The success of A Christmas Carol: On the Air created the foundation for what would become the beginning of what Carroll and Sham see as a lifelong collaboration on other projects. But Carroll and Sham had cemented their friendship long before they started creating projects together. They first worked together on the 2002 Festival production of Man of La Mancha directed by Carroll. Sham was an actor in the play.
Carroll explains they “quickly became fast friends because we have the same sense of humor, irony, and many other things.”
Sham is quick to add they also have the “same sense of gossip.” Sham also points out that they make such an excellent team because they are honest with each other and they are not afraid to bruise each other’s egos. “With us the project is always the most important thing. It’s all about the play,” he said.
So when the talented pair and the Festival to write and produce a musical to premiere at the Festival they were anxious to work together on a new project. When Sham told Carroll he was going to call his friend Ken Ludwig and ask if they could revamp his famous Lend Me a Tenor into a musical, Carroll said he thought his partner was crazy. The next day Ludwig e-mailed him back with the unexpected answer, “Hmm! Never thought about it.” Ludwig e-mailed them back within the next couple of days and said “ Let’s do it.”
“What we are really excited about is that he gave us free reign.” Ludwig once told Sham that because of its financial success he never really had to work again after Lend Me a Tenor. Although, Ludwig refuses to rest on his laurels, Lend Me a Tenor has been his greatest success. And yet, he told Carroll and Sham they could do whatever they wanted with the new musical.
“When someone gives you that luxury, you honor the work even more,” said Sham. “He trusted us when he didn’t really have any reason to trust us except for friendship. That really says what kind of a person he is.”
In 2004 the Carroll/Sham team began working on the project which they presented as a staged reading in May 2006 at the Festival. The initial readings have already received rave reviews including support from Ludwig, who says, “The music is terrific. The lyrics are fabulous. [Peter and Brad] have done a most incredible job. This is first rate—home run.”
Sham and Carroll are already brainstorming for future products. And although they make a great team, they have their own personal achievements that have brought them to their recent run of success.
Carroll is the composer/arranger of the new opera-theatre piece, Cio Cio San, as well as the author/composer of The Emperor’s New Clothes commissioned for Shakespeare Santa Cruz in 2003. His other produced musicals include Across the River, Togetherness, Christmas Is . . . A Musical Memory, and a new musical treatment of Robin Hood. Carroll has created musical scores for dramatic productions including Cyrano de Bergerac, King Lear, As You Like It, Death of A Salesman, and To Kill a Mockingbird. He has worked as a writer, director, and musical arranger for Walt Disney Entertainment, and his arrangements/ orchestrations have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony and the Boston Pops.
Currently he is an adjunct professor in Southern Utah University’s College of Performing and Visual Arts.
Sham is the playwright of the musicals Toyland and It’s a Dog’s Life: Man’s Best Musical; the screenplays After the Wizard and Hag and the Playhouse; and the plays Moby Dick and A Christmas Carol: On the Air, a “1940s radio show” version of the Charles Dickens classic written with Brad Carroll and produced at the Utah Shakespeare Festival the past three Christmas seasons. He also recently finished a collaboration with William Peter Blatty, adapting the award-winning screenplay The Ninth Configuration, for the stage under the title of the original novel, Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane. He is currently teaching in Southern Utah University’s college of Performing and Visual Arts. He has also been an actor the Utah Shakespeare Festival for the past ten years.