BWW Reviews: Playhouse on Park's LEND ME A TENOR Visits the Silly Side of Othello
LEND ME A TENOR
Theatre: Playhouse on Park
Location: 244 Park Street, West Hartford, CT
Production: By Ken Ludwig; Directed by Jerry Winters; Scenic Design by Christopher Hoyt; Lighting Design by Aaron Hochheiser; Costume Design by Erin Kacmarcik; Sound Design by Ryan Kelly. Through Febtruary 9; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $20 to $32.50, visit www.playhouseonpark.org.
Having started their 5th year with Shakespeare's tragedy Othello, what fun that, by accident or design, The Playhouse on Park returns to the Moor of Venice in the same season. This time, however, Othello (or, in this case, we drop the "h") has a very different set of challenges facing him. Ken Ludwig's romping Lend Me a Tenor details the hotel room shenanigans involving an opera singer's insatiable hungers for food, wine and bosoms. Without an evil Iago to stir the pot, a hapless gofer from the opera company must keep his leading man in line instead of manipulating the fates to destroy him. What results is, instead of a tragedy, a much-revived, door-slamming farce.
The plot involves the imminent arrival of the world-renowned Italian operatic tenor Tito Merelli. Hired by a Cleveland opera company to star in a gala performance of Verdi's Otello, Merelli represents a calculated risk due to his reputation for drinking and womanizing. Max, a mousy, nervous underling at the opera company, has been tasked with babysitting "Il Stupendo" until he gets onstage.
Saunders, the Bialystock to Max's Bloom, is the always-about-to-blow-a-gasket opera producer who helps concoct a crazy scenario to have the show go on when, inevitably, things go awry. Add to the mix, the aforementioned pushy bellhop and a quartet of riotous women: a star-struck fiancée, a horny opera guild doyenne, a conniving diva, and Merelli's equally operatic wife - and boom! Farce is served. The play is a hair talkier than it needs to be and a subplot about rotting shrimp backstage goes nowhere, but Ludwig's piece is a worthy vehicle for laughs.
Director Jerry Winters clearly realizes the key to farce is to keep the pace moving. He succeeds in keeping the piece charging forward, with the exception of a sluggish Act 1 close. Plays like Lend Me a Tenor cannot survive poor direction, and Winters keeps the performances broad enough and adds an interesting twist I do not believe I have encountered in previous productions: actual opera singing. Although the singing is not at the heart-stopping level that the characters all claim to be experiencing, it is a fun gambit and plays well.
When it comes to casting, the production becomes a little bit more uneven. Certain performances, particularly Mike Boland, as the blowhard opera impresario, and Lilly Wilton as his besotted daughter Maggie, are played well and cover all the basics with comic aplomb. Jeff Gonzalez delivers a strong and beleaguered Max who gets to unleash his inner "divo" and frustrated libido. Robert Wilde captures Tito Merelli, finely balancing the lothario and a bug-eyed, arm-flapping dynamo.
Other performances in the production show that the actors get what they need to accomplish for the farce, but just miss the mark that would send the comedy into the stratosphere. Ashley Ford's Maria, the put-upon wife of Tito, shouts appropriately and attempts to hit the operatic heights that her role requires. Unfortunately, she appears to be a bit too young to play the battle-axe the role requires and doesn't fully seize the comic license this character gives to truly go over the top.
Donna Schilke's patroness of the opera does possess some of the laughs, but should be clearly modeled on the Margaret Dumont-esque society ladies found in Marx Brothers films. Over the remainder of the run, Schilke could get her performance there easily. The opposite problem occurs with Corrado Alicata's daffy bellhop/groupie, which could stand to be dialed down a bit, although it is always a pleasure to hear his knockout voice.
The one performer in the production who absolutely nails every aspect of their performance is the stunning Katie Vincent as the sexpot singing ingénue, Diana. You simply cannot take your eyes off of this operatic Jessica Rabbit. Her intuitive and hilarious performance shows that she gets farce, her character and her laughs. This young actor is going to be one to watch.
Again, by accident or design, Winters has assembled the Othello production team to design Tenor. The costumes by Erin Kacmarcik are fabulous and spot-on. The hotel room set by Christopher Hoyt simultaneously manages to straddle Art Deco period flourishes and modern Marriott. Aaron Hochheiser's lighting manages to help separate the two hotel rooms nicely, and Ryan Kelly's sound effects and opera music cues round things out nicely.
All in all, despite a few minor sour notes, Lend Me a Tenor provides a fine showcase for the softer side of Othello. Let laughter warm you up on these chilly winter nights.