BWW Reviews: LEND ME A TENOR at Delaware Theatre Company
Lend Me a Tenor at Delaware Theatre Company is, in all the best senses, a complete farce. The pacing, energy, and confusion are all there, and the director and cast have raised it to its full comedic potential. Find the time to let them tickle every funny bone you have.
Lend Me a Tenor was Ken Ludwig's first Broadway show. It ran for a little more than one year and won two Tonys and four Drama Desk Awards. It is a farce - a play characterized by improbable situations, mistaken identities and, usually, many doors through which actors may exit and enter in stealth or in haste.
Delaware Theatre Company's Lend Me a Tenor achieves all of these superbly. Director Bud Martin, who is also DTC's Executive Director, selected a first-rate ensemble and kept them energized throughout. The result is a play that keeps the audience laughing from the ingénue's operatic mime to the frenetic finale.
A farce uses a lot of rapid movement - in and out of doors, around and over the furniture, toward and away from each other - because much of the humor is derived from the rapid accumulation of improbabilities. The cast of DTC's Lend Me a Tenor maintains this pace admirably, and goes further; each performer adds his or her unique touches to enhance the comedic effect. (The word "luna-tic" comes immediately to mind.) Ultimately, blame or credit for a show's success falls on the director. In this case, full credit for encouraging and coordinating these individual efforts belongs to Bud Martin, who has elevated a pleasant comedy to a triumph.
To make this work requires a cast of actors working in synchrony - an ensemble, and that is how I would characterize this cast. It might well be a little less than it is without each of them. Tony Braithwaite gives us Saunders, the Cleveland Opera Company's impresario. His performance provides blend of several 30s era character actors, including a brief glimpse of Groucho. Max (Jonathan Silver) begins the play as Saunders' obsequious assistant ("general dogsbody") but finishes a bit more self-assured. Max loves Saunders' daughter Maggie (Eileen Cella), who is infatuated with Tito Merelli (John Plumpis), the self-indulgent (food, wine, women and, yes, song are among his passions) tenor virtuoso whose visit, Saunders expects, will put his company on the world opera map.
Max is assigned to look after Tito - to get him anything he wants and, most importantly, to get him to the theater on time. Tito arrives, but not alone. Unexpectedly, his fiery Italian wife, Maria (Tracie Higgins) has come along to add to the confusion. Everyone (in this play, at least) loves a tenor, including a bellhop (Howie Brown) who would love to audition or get an autograph, the opera company's soprano Diana (Sarah Litzsinger), hunting for a career-boosting liaison, and Julia, the company's Tito-enraptured chairwoman (Marcia Hepps).
These actors blend their talents - and their mugging - to elicit a steady stream of laughter from the audience. Opera is, of course, integral to the plot, so it was pleasant to hear Max (who has operatic ambitions of his own) and Tito give a creditable rendition of the duet "Dio, che nell'alma infondere" from Verdi's Don Carlos as Tito guided Max to cast off his inhibitions.
Dirk Durossette's set is a terrific 30s hotel suite, right down to the wall treatments. The cathedral-style radio is a perfect touch. I guess he has to share credit with lighting designer Jim Leitner for the "Cleveland skyline" with its nighttime lighted windows. Alisa Kleckner's costumes really help to set the characters in the 1930s. She did an exceptional job with Julia's gown. Saunders comments that it reminds him of the Chrysler Building, and it really does.
Lend Me a Tenor continues at Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water Street, Wilmington DE through November 3, 2013; (302) 594-1100 or online at www.delawaretheatre.org. Running time: about 2 hours.