Ken Ludwig has been to Broadway. He's won Tony Awards. Big stars have read his lines.
But, from time to time, the playwright's thoughts drift back to York County.
"It's such an artistic area," he said during a recent phone interview from his Washington, D.C., home. "I remember being surrounded by the arts. The German roots of the community are very musical."
Ludwig said that when he was a child, seeing a play at York Little Theatre was "an enormous treat." In the summers, his family would pile into the car and drive to Totem Pole or Allenberry playhouses.
Even in his early 60s, Ludwig still considers a trip to YLT to be a treat. He said he was delighted the theater staff invited him to view its production of his comedy "Leading Ladies."The play opens Friday, and Ludwig is scheduled to see the Sunday matinee.
His visit comes after a period of economic decline at YLT.
In 2010, the theater reached the end of its line of credit. Later that year, it eliminated three staffers and, because of its financial troubles, lost funding from the Cultural Alliance of York County.
"It's been the same story all around the country," Ludwig said of YLT's problems. "The arts are in danger. It's so wrong. They are not a luxury. That's what feeds our souls."
But last month, YLT announced good news: The theater's deficit has dropped. Attendance, theater class enrollment and volunteer participation are all up. Corporate donors pledged $236,000 to a fundraising campaign.
Ludwig said he was glad that YLT has rebounded, especially since theater is crucial for childhood development.
From an early age, Ludwig knew he wanted to be a thespian. Acting was the obvious thing to do in his young eyes. When he was a little older, he saw that there were jobs - costumer, set designer, producer - behind the scenes.
By the time he attended York Suburban Senior High School, he was involved in theater and band. He acted and, when the school staged a play with all-female roles, he worked as an assistant director. He started to write scripts in his early teens.
"I loved all things literary," he said. "I studied literature . . . and that took me to Shakespeare. I never studied playwriting; I grew into it."
Ludwig studied traditions and titans of English and American stage comedy, including George Farquhar, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. Ludwig said he tries to not name his modern favorites, but added that Woody Allen scripts will last forever as great comedic works.
"A comedy is not just about laughing," Ludwig said. "It's not just about seeing a play with a happy ending. It has to do with the world that's created. It makes you think differently. It raises social concerns (to help the audience) understand our common humanity."
After studying music theory at Haverford College, he went onto Harvard Law School, which led to a subsequent scholarship to England's Cambridge University. While earning a law degree, he studied music with Leonard Bernstein and theater history.
After school, Ludwig practiced law to pay the bills and wrote plays at night. He never felt the need to live in The Big Apple to be close to Broadway. He opted to live in Washington, D.C., to be near his older brother, Gene, instead.
In the '80s, Ludwig was able to switch to being a full-time writer and part-time lawyer following the success of "Sullivan and Gilbert," which was staged at the Kennedy Center, and "Lend Me a Tenor," which won two Tony awards.
Ludwig's success continued in rapid succession.
"I've often thought about coming back to York or having a weekend place," he said. "I've been so busy, I haven't been able to follow through with it."
Inspiration sprung from his memories of his godparents' farm near Spry. He used York as the backdrop for "Leading Ladies," which hit the stage in 2004.
"The storyline is based on part of a novel by Mark Twain," he said. "Most of my comedies are set in small towns that I'm familiar with. Comedies thrive on the society in which they're set."
Ludwig said that's why he's interested to see "Leading Ladies" on YLT's stage. He gets several invitations to stagings of his plays all around the world, but, aside from Broadway premieres, he said he rarely attends.
"Going to see my plays . . . makes me feel like I'm living in the past," he said. "This will be a unique opportunity. I'm proud to be doing it."
Even though he's known for comedy, Ludwig's works span several genres. He's been commissioned by theaters to write stage adaptations. He's worked on historical dramas and has penned screenplays, including one for the recent Muppets movie. Studios usually ask a few writers to work on screenplays for one project, he said, and ultimately, movie writers have little control over their scripts.
He recently wrote a children's play, finished a script for a thriller and completed a manuscript for a book on how to teach kids Shakespeare.
"I'm really embarking on the next comedy - another sort of small-town (story) with eight characters," Ludwig said. "Like storytellers, you start out with a blank page; it's exciting. I write about things that I care deeply about. Raising my children has been a major influence."
When Ludwig mentioned his two teenage children, it reminded him to check the time. He said he had to run.
"I have to take my son to a music lesson," he explained. "(He) plays oboe."
- Erin McCracken, FlipSide staff
Ken Ludwig plays
"Crazy For You": The play follows the son of a wealthy banker who pursues his Broadway dreams in the 1930s. It won the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Los Angeles Critics Circle and Helen Hayes awards as Best Musical of the Year, as well as the Olivier Award for Best Musical in London. It aired on the PBS series "Great Performances." It had a revival at The Open Air Theatre in the summer of 2011.
"Lend Me A Tenor": It was originally produced on Broadway by Andrew Lloyd Webber and was revived in 2010 for a run that starred Tony Shalhoub and Justin Bartha. In London, it was nominated for the Olivier Award as Comedy of the Year. It won two Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critics Circle Awards.
"Moon Over Buffalo": It was nominated for two Tony Awards and marked Carol Burnett's return to Broadway. Subsequent Broadway casts included Lynn Redgrave and Robert Goulet. In London, it played at the legendary Old Vic and starred Joan Collins and Frank Langella.
"Twentieth Century": Ludwig's adaptation of the Hecht-MacArthur comedy premiered at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. In 2004, it played on Broadway, where it was produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company and starred Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche.
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer": The play appeared on Broadway during the 2001-02 season. A one-hour children's version had run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and toured the country for two years.
"Shakespeare in Hollywood": The Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned this play, which premiered at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and won the Helen Hayes Award as Best Play of the Year.
"Leading Ladies": This play, which is set in Ludwig's native York County, premiered in 2004 at the Alley Theatre in Houston.
"Be My Baby": It opened the 2005-06 season at the Alley Theatre and starred Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter. John Rando directed.
"The Beaux' Stratagem": Ludwig was asked by the Estate of Thornton Wilder to complete Mr. Wilder's adaptation of the restoration comedy by George Farquhar. The play premiered at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. Michael Kahn directed.
"Treasure Island": Ludwig's adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure novel premiered in 2007 at The Alley Theatre. It later opened at the Theatre Royal in London's West End in 2008. It won the 2009 AATE Distinguished Play Award for Best Adaptation.
"The Three Musketeers": Ludwig was commissioned by The Bristol Old Vic in London to write an adaptation of the classic tale for an eight-week run during the theater's 2006 Christmas season.
"An American in Paris": Ludwig's stage version of "An American in Paris" with the music of George and Ira Gershwin premiered at the Alley Theatre in 2008, directed by Gregory Boyd and designed by Douglas Schmidt.
"The Fox on the Fairway": Ludwig's new comedy set in the world of golf, premiered in 2010 at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. It was directed by John Rando.
"The Game's Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays)": Ludwig wrote this comedy-mystery about the great actor William Gillette, who originated the role of Sherlock Holmes. It premiered in November 2011 at Cleveland Play House and was directed by Aaron Posner.
" 'Twas The Night Before Christmas": The world premiere of Ludwig's first play for children ran through the 2011 holiday season at The Adventure Theatre.
Other plays: "Sullivan and Gilbert," a co-production of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Arts Centre of Canada; a new adaptation of "Where's Charley?" for the Kennedy Center; the Off-Broadway play "Divine Fire"; and the mystery "Postmortem"
TV: Ludwig earned an Emmy nomination for co-writing the 1990 Kennedy Center Honors for CBS and a television pilot for Carol Channing.
Film: Ludwig wrote "Lend Me A Tenor" for Columbia Pictures and "All Shook Up" for Touchstone Pictures and director Frank Oz.
Directing: In 2004, Ludwig directed the world premiere of "Leading Ladies" at the Alley Theatre in Houston starring Brent Barrett and Erin Dilly. He has directed readings of "Shakespeare in Hollywood," "Treasure Island" and "The Game's Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays)" at the Kennedy Center.
About Ken Ludwig's visit
Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig will visit York Little Theatre for the production of his comedy "Leading Ladies" 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5. He will be the guest of honor at a 1 p.m. reception before the show and will make remarks at 2 p.m. He will also host a brief question-and-answer session after the show and will sign copies of his play anthology, which will be available for purchase. Autographed copies of the book can be ordered by calling 854-3894.
While Ludwig is at the theater, federal, state and local officials from York County will present him with a proclamation that makes Sunday Ken Ludwig Day.
See "Leading Ladies"
The play also runs 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11 and 3 p.m. Feb. 12 at YLT, 27 S. Belmont St., Spring Garden Township.
It follows two broke actors who hear that an old lady in York is about to leave her fortune to her two long-lost nephews. They plan to pass themselves off as her nephews to get the cash. But when they get to York, the two male actors discover that the woman is seeking her two nieces. They decide to don dresses and impersonate her nieces.
Tickets are $23 for adults, $21 for seniors, $18 for students and $10 for children.
For details and tickets, call 854-5715 or visit www.ylt.org.
Area historian June Lloyd says seeing Ludwig return to York shows how far the York Little Theatre has come.