NEW YORK - Mark Twain's new comedy opens on Broadway tomorrow night.

That sounds ridiculous - the master of American humor has been dead for 97 years. But it's true.

A Stanford University professor named Shelley Fisher Fishkin found

Is He Dead?

, Twain's never-staged melodramatic farce, in a file of the writer's material at the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley five years ago.

Twain wrote the play in 1898, and it went nowhere - until it opened in previews Nov. 8 at New York's 104-year-old Lyceum Theatre on 45th Street, a showplace Twain himself had attended when it had been operating only five years, according to a note in the show's Playbill.

Then,

Is He Dead?

died - a condition Twain surely would have remarked on - when a strike by stagehands shut down most of Broadway's theaters for 19 days. Previews reopened after the strike was settled, and

Is He Dead?

, a cross-dressing comedy about an artist who declares himself dead so that his paintings might make big bucks, officially opens tomorrow.

Twain - known by his real name, Samuel Clemens, when he lived for a time in Philadelphia and worked at The Inquirer as a compositor - had only one other play produced:

Ah Sin

, which he wrote with Bret Harte. He also has a collaborator for

Is He Dead?

: playwright David Ives, who has shaped the work to fill in the holes and smooth it for a Broadway debut.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com. Read his review of "Is He Dead?" on Monday.