BWW Reviews: LEND ME A TENOR is a Door-Slamming Good Farce
Cleveland, 1930: Theatre manager Saunders and his assistant Max are awaiting the arrival of famous opera singer Tito Morelli, also known as Il Stupendo. When Tito finally arrives, he and his wife Maria are in the midst of a squabble. But that doesn't matter to the fans - Saunders' daughter Maggie is enthralled with the opera star, ignoring Max, her sometime boyfriend. Also enraptured is Julia, the chairlady of the opera guild, while the sexy Diana thinks that having a relationship with Tito will further her career. An overly aggressive bellhop who is an opera-singer-wannabe, hopes that Tito will notice him and his very ambitious goals.
Tito takes sleeping pills, planning to nap before his big performance, but takes too much and can't be awakened. Max and Saunders assume he has died. So the young Max dresses in costume and performs Otello in Tito's place. Tito awakes from his deep sleep, puts on a matching costume and goes to the theatre. There are many cases of mistaken identity, lots of physical comedy and plenty of door-slamming fun as the crazy situation unfolds.
This wild farce is currently on stage at the new Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge. The opening-night audience laughed heartily throughout the farce, thanks to a very strong cast. Victor Young is hilarious as the frustrated and agitated Saunders, trying to manage the theatre and his temperamental opera star. Darren Keay is perfect as the hapless Max, hoping to win Maggie's heart and get his chance to perform on stage. Jayme Armstrong, always popular on Drayton Entertainment stages, is the star-struck Maggie, wanting to get Tito's attention and even have a "fling". Julia, the pretentious chairlady of the guild, is perfectly played by Valerie Boyle, recently returned to Canada from Broadway. Gerry Mendicino is hilarious as Tito, along with Susan Johnston Collins who brings great humour to the role of Maria, Tito's jealous wife. Sarah Cornell is excellent as the ambitious Diana, whose only strategy to advance her career is to seduce Tito. Thomas Alderson is the hysterical bellhop, who has his own operatic aspirations.
The opera Otello is based on Shakespeare's Othello and the role should be played by a Moor, someone from North Africa. So it is a bit jarring when two white men come on stage in blackface. But you soon realize that this is all part of the farce, and it's a satiric look at the very old, racist practice of performing in blackface. It also points out how preposterous it is to believe that two very dissimilar men could be mistaken for each other just because both are wearing blackface paint.
The set is perfect art deco/1930s style: a two room suite at an elegant hotel. The costumes, too, are excellent.
The show concludes with playwright Ken Ludwig's signature curtain-call. The entire play is reproduced in fast-forward, recapping all the zaniness for the audience's final applause. A high-speed recap was also done earlier this summer in a Ken Ludwig play, Fox on the Fairway, at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia this summer. As if the play itself isn't funny enough, the audience is treated to another round of laughs seeing it all performed again in just 90 or so seconds.
It's an evening of laughter - anyone who is a fan of the farce will enjoy this performance, thanks to cast with solid comedic timing.
Lend Me a Tenor continues with eight shows a week until October12 at Dunfield Theatre, Cambridge. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-621-8000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check http://www.draytonentertainment.com/
Disclaimer: the reviewer's son is part of this cast.
A member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, Mary Alderson reviews shows at southwestern Ontario theatres and posts blogs at www.entertainthisthought.com .