BWW Review: LEND ME A TENOR a Little Off Key at Rhode Island Stage Ensemble
The Rhode Island Stage Ensemble (RISE), a community theater, offers Ken Ludwig's LEND ME A TENOR at their 142 Clinton St., Woonsocket playhouse. First of all, Ludwig is a very accomplished playwright and LEND ME A TENOR a much decorated farce (nine nominations and two Tony awards in 1989). The play takes place in a hotel in Cleveland. The two-room set consists of a sitting room with a sofa and chairs at right and a bedroom at left. A center "stage wall" divides the two rooms, with a door leading from one room to the other. (Throughout the play, the audience can see what's happening in both rooms at the same time.) Famed tenor Tito Merelli (Robert Grady) is due to make his appearance singing Verdi's Othello with the Cleveland Opera but in a series of misadventures, ends up being replaced by the shy but talented Max (Michael Ferron). A lot of the comedy depends on Max and Tito, both in costume, being mistaken for each other by virtually all the other players.
So what's to like. First of all, when Robert Grady was sang, the show sings . When he learns that Max is an aspiring opera singer, Tito kindly gives Max a singing lesson, teaching him to "loosen up" and sing with more confidence. Tito and Max sing a duet together, "Dio, che nell'alma infondere," from Verdi's Don Carlos. It was so good, I thought Grady was lip-synching, but, no, it was Grady.
Secondly, the play has some pretty funny lines. When self-centered impresario Henry Saunderes (Steve Small) thinks Tito has died, he reacts with, "He's dead. Selfish bastard." And this from Tito's wife, the earthy Camille Terilli, when she suspects Tito of infidelity, "Someday you gonna wake up in your bed and you gonna be a soprano." Also, young Tim Ferron as the Bellhop has some funny moments, especially one where he mimics Aunt Julia (Mary Case).
So what's the problem? First of all, when Tito and Max sing their duet, Ferrone should have been lip sinking. His voice was no match for Grady's, and you cannot willingly surrender enough disbelief to think he could fool an audience. And they are so different physically, it's hard to believe they could be mistaken for each other, which is central to the plot. This may seem like a minor point, but the whole farce hangs on an audience buying Max as an opera star, and that just did not happen. Maybe they could have lip-synched Max's half of the duet. Secondly, the set needed more work to create the illusion of a hotel suite. Everyone in RISE worked really hard to make this work, but I am afraid it missed by a bit.
LEND ME A TENOR runs through a Sunday Matinee at 2:00 P.M. Running time is about two hours with an intermission. Performances on Friday and Saturdays are at 7:30. Tickets are $20.00. The theater wheelchair accessible but, alas, the bathrooms are not.