Published May 10, 1991|Updated Oct. 13, 2005

Ron Holgate is putting his wonderful tenor voice to work on and off stage these days. As the lead in lawyer-playwright Ken Ludwig's crazy award-winning comedy Lend Me a Tenor, Holgate portrays Il Stupendo, the Italian tenor. And when he is home, he sings lullabyes to his 11-month-old daughter, Chloe.

During a phone interview last week from Orlando, where he was performing in the show, Holgate talked about having a chance to play the role he originated in the Tony award-winning Tenor. "This is the fourth time I've done it; the show has been good to me," says Holgate.

The play was written by Ludwig, a Harvard Law School graduate, with whom Holgate has been a close friend since starring in his Tenor role at the American Stage Festival in Milford, N.H. in August 1985. Ludwig was the best man when Holgate, 54, married actress Anny DeGange.

Lend Me a Tenor has been translated into 11 languages and produced in more than 15 countries around the world. Ludwig recently completed the screenplay for Columbia pictures.

Every so often during the interview, Holgate excused himself for a moment to untangle Chloe from the phone cord. "This is my second time around at fatherhood, I just put my older daughter Melissa on a cruise ship," he explained. A graduate of Rollins College, Melissa, 23, has inherited her dad's musical talents and is performing with a cast at sea.

Holgate, who started performing professionally while still in college, says "My forte is that I can do a lot of different things; that is what has kept me going for the past 30 years."

He was attending Northwestern University in Chicago when he was sighted by the renowned opera director/teacher Boris Goldovsky. Goldovsky took Holgate to the New England Conservatory of Music.

Holgate got his first role on Broadway in 1961 in Jerry Herman's Milk and Honey. The next year he won the role of Miles Gloriosus in Stephen Sondheim's first big hit as both composer and lyricist in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Then it was Holgate's turn. He won his first Tony as Best Actor in the musical 1776 in the role of Richard Henry Lee. This summer he will recreate this role at the Williamstown Summer Festival in Williamstown, Mass. Holgate was also nominated for the Tony for his role in another Herman musical _ The Grand Tour in 1979.

Holgate has spent a great deal of his professional life the past 10 years on tour in such musicals as Annie, 42nd Street and Can Can. (He was most recently seen in Tampa in 1988 co-starring with Chita Rivera in Can Can.)

In Lend Me a Tenor, Holgate has been described by critics as the "quintessential lusty tenor" who "spices his spaghetti accent with a lot of oregano."

The show's plot concerns the frantic opening night of the Cleveland Opera Company in 1934. The opera company awaits the arrival of the internationally renowned tenor, Tito Merellii, known to his fans as Il Stupendo. He is to sing a benefit performance of Verdi's Otello. The manager of the company is nervous about the star's late arrival. The whole evening will be a disaster if the much-loved tenor doesn't perform. Some thousand-plus subscribers have spent $50 a ticket to hear him sing and for a chance to meet him at a fancy reception following the performance.

Il Stupendo and his wife arrive in the midst of a domestic feud over his gluttony and lust. The star is given some pills by Max, the manager's assistant, falls into a stupor and is thought dead. Max, who has been waiting in the wings for his big chance, goes on in Il Stupendo's place. From there it becomes a matter of mistaken identity, with a lot of slamming doors in between the sexual hanky-panky.

Holgate is at the hub of all this crazy carrying-on.

"Farce is very difficult," he said. "For the actor, farce presents a far more difficult set of challenges. The thing about doing farce is that you're constantly being humbled by the audience. You've got to be on, got to be right, got to be true."

And Holgate is true to Lend Me a Tenor. In September and October he will be doing the show again _ not only as the lead but as the director in the production when it plays in Birmingham, Mich.


Lend Me a Tenor

The Tony-award winning comedy, starring Barry Nelson and Ron Holgate, opens Tuesday and runs through May 19 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Eight performances will be given. There will be shows Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.; matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. with the final performance on Sunday (May 19) at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center box office and at all Ticketmaster locations, including Maison Blanche, Spec's Music and West Coast Video. To charge by phone, call Ticketmaster at (813) 287-8844. Tickets range in price from $16.50 to $34.