Playwright Ken Ludwig's childhood dream

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Imagine you are 6 years old, sitting in a capacious chair in a Broadway theater. The lights grow dim, the audience goes silent, the curtain goes up. There in the dazzling lights is an alien creature, recently arrived on Earth. His mood? Delightfully cranky. His mission? To stir up a war. The bright sound of laughter fills the hall. By the time the cast is taking its bows, you've decided what you want to be for the rest of your life. Not the actor. Not the director. Not even the alien. You want to be the mind that created them all. You want to be the playwright.

So it was for Ken Ludwig as a boy, sitting with his parents in what became an annual family outing to Broadway. It was 1957. They were watching "Visit to a Small Planet," by Gore Vidal.

Ludwig's father was a doctor, his mother a former Broadway chorus girl. They lived in York, Pa., a mere three-hour train ride from Manhattan. From his mother, Ludwig inherited a love for theatre; from his father, a strong partiality for a steady paycheck. After majoring in music at Haverford College, he went on to get a law degree at Harvard.

Even as he worked his way toward a legal career, however, it was the stage that drew him. At Haverford, he wrote and produced his first musical comedy. While studying at Harvard Law School, he joined a master class in music composition taught by Leonard Bernstein. While reading law at Cambridge University, he managed to wheedle his way into piano classes.

Today, he is the only Washington lawyer I can think of who has won the Tony, Helen Hayes, Lawrence Olivier and Outer Critic Circle awards. Master of the madcap romp, he has written a flurry of comedies that have become American staples, among them "Crazy for You," "Moon Over Buffalo" and "Lend Me a Tenor" (which re-opens on Broadway April 4). This fall, Signature Theatre will premiere his fanciful farce about golf, "A Fox on the Fairway."

"There's something in comedy that deeply pleases us," says Ludwig. "A shared humanity, perhaps."

He knew it at 6 and never forgot it.

-- Marie Arana

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