BWW Review: LEND ME A TENOR at Resident Theatre Company
Lend Me A Tenor has all of the ingredients of a classic farce, mistaken identity, frantic pace, slamming doors, and bedroom shenanigans. The Resident Theatre Company combines all of those elements to create a high energy, laugh-packed night of comedy.
The story takes place in a pair of Cleveland hotel rooms in the 1930's. The great opera singer, Tito Merelli (Bart Shatto) is in town to star in a performance of Othello. Harry Sanders (Michael Yeshion), the general manager of the opera house, gets his meek assistant, Max (Woody White) to baby-sit Merelli until showtime. Max is told, specifically, to keep Merelli away from his two weak spots, women and booze.
Through a series of accidents and plot twists, Merelli accidentally overdoses on tranquilizers. When Harry and Max falsely assume that he is dead, panic wins out over logic, and Max is forced to impersonate Merelli for the performance. Merelli wakes up from his stupor at the conclusion of act 1, and the second act is the comedic pay-off of what happens post-performance.
This cast has a load of talent, and part of that can be attributed to a couple of ringers with Broadway experience on their resumes. White plays Max with a nervous energy. He transfers into a more suave, confident character under the guise of the Othello costume. He also has an impressive singing voice, that is put on display to convince the audience that he has the potential to pull off the scam.
Shatto's Merelli is dynamic and personable. Rather than being the unlikable divo that we expect, he is played as a rather likeable character with a lot of passions. I do have a casting quibble in that Shatto and White have relatively similar body types. I think there was some missed comedic potential in not casting two absurdly differently sized individuals vying for the same role. This was the essence of the classic Saturday Night Live Chippendales sketch, and could have added another layer of humor to an already funny play.
Michael Yeshion was an audience favorite. His uptight, intense character brought gravity to the situation. In the best comedies, the humor comes in taking the situation as seriously as possible. Yeshion accomplishes this in spades.
Lend Me a Tenor is more than just a boys' club. The ladies of the show bring sexiness and sass to the table. Hillary Wilson, Katie Horner, Laurie Wells, and Trina Tjersland serve as a formidable foursome of love interests for the two Othellos. Their comedic timing and physicality add great zest to production.
Last but certainly not least, Angel Sigala plays the star-struck bellhop. Sigala takes a relatively small part and makes it his own. His enthusiasm and energy drew the focus to him every time he appeared on stage.
Beyond the cast, the set was very attractive and a pleasure to look at. Other than the aforementioned missed opportunity associated with two differently sized Othellos, the costumes were wonderful. In case you were wondering, the actors do not do blackface while in character as the moor. That bit was on shaky grounds when the show premiered on Broadway in 1989, and is pretty much banished to mothballs in our current climate. Perhaps one way that modern productions could address this issue would be to cast an African-American actor as Merelli, which would make the juxtaposition between the two Othellos even more absurd!
Although extremely pleased with the production, I have a recommendation for the theater. The show began at 7:25, almost a half hour past its published curtain time. This was partially due to a slew of audience stragglers and partially to a lengthy set of announcements. Similarly, intermission lasted almost 20 minutes. Even then, people struggled around in the dark to return to their seats. Beyond working out inevitable opening night kinks, I might suggest more effective utilization of ushers and the house manager to make things run more efficiently.
Lend me a Tenor is an ebullient and highly professional production. The Resident Theater Company have a hit on their hands, and The Town of West Chester should be proud to own a tiny slice of Broadway. Tickets and more information can be found at the company website.