BWW Review: LEND ME A TENOR at Candlelight Theatre
I understand why actors have a passive-aggressive, love hate relationship with critics. Over 30+ years of reviewing regional theatre, I've had the privilege of attending hundreds of shows. From a previous review, some actors don't make eye contact with me when they feel they have been slighted or criticized unfairly...or worse yet...never mentioned!
The truth is that I have more institutional knowledge of Delaware theatre than anyone. There is a sense of responsibility, more so now that the only statewide newspaper ceased reviews of performing arts two years ago.
Criticism hurts. I get it. Criticism is remembered. I've been on both sides. I still recall when that mean spirited, evil, misanthropic cretin of a man - Otto Dekom - wrote of my portrayal of Haaj The Poet in KISMET at Longwood Gardens: "Firestone jumps around the stage like a joker in a jack in the box! And I am being kind to note his singing voice is a trifle less than mediocre". That was 1978! (How's THAT for letting go?).
So, it is cathartic that I speak to Candlelight's LEND ME A TENOR. I know this is trite, but I must say that sometime in the past I probably laughed harder and longer. I simply cannot think of what the show was or when. This production is an absolute hoot.
This ensemble of comedians/comediennes was absolutely stellar; their collective ability to spout a laugh line and to communicate outrageous 'takes'... simply classic. When you go (and you really must), focus on the faces. Each and every actor was consummate and genuine in their role.
Nominated for 9 Tony's when it opened on Broadway, this absurdist farce abounds with over-the-top characters, mistaken identities, posturing and posing, incessant door slamming is an ideal platform for honing comedy chops. Director Bob Kelly chose wisely.
We are introduced to the first quirky character (okay, they're ALL quirky) Saunders (David Wills), the blowhard GM of the Cleveland Grand Opera. The man needs some Xanax. His attempt to strangle the obnoxious Bellhop (Anthony Connell), who consistently shows up at the most inappropriate of times, brought cascades of laughter through the sell out crowd opening night. Connell, btw, does obnoxious so very well. His snide rejoinders to Saunders are droll, perfectly underplayed AND side-splitting.
Max (Jared Calhoun) is the long-suffering assistant to Saunders. Max has a talent for opera, which comes in quite handy for opening night of the opera company's premiere of PAGLIACCI.
Tito Merelli, the world-famous tenor a/k/a "El Stupendo" (Paul McElwee) was booked for the part, but in farce events don't necessarily proceed accordingly. Calhoun and McElwee work sublimely together.
McElwee had exhibited great dexterity with accents in Candlelight's previous SHE LOVES ME. Traveling now from Hungary to Italy, McElwee's Italian accent - along with those of Calhoun's and Tito's wife - the supremely jealous diva Maria (Rebecca Schall) were not only precise but also uproarious.
Finding out that wife is leaving him due to his incessant philandering, Tito (McElwee) does a brilliant physical humor bit trying to kill himself with a fork and consequently takes too much medication to calm his nerves. This all leads to a reversal of roles.
Dear readers, the hijinks are only beginning.
Maggie (Hallie Hargus) is verging on triple threat talent. From her lovely ballet sequence and singing voice in BRIGADOON, Hargus shows her acting talent. Watch her cheeks and her deluded/euphoric expression when she emerges from her romantic 'smooch attack' on the costumed and white-faced character she 'thinks' to be Tito. This is a whole new definition for giving a 'facial'. Very funny!
Schall as Maria serves exquisite vitriol to her skirt chasing husband Tito. Her angst rises to a new level when she opens the closet door and sees a cowering Maggie there, innocently hoping for an autograph from her husband.
In her program bio, Julia Kershetsky, playing Diana comments that she is wearing sufficiently less clothing now as opposed to her portrayal of Sarah Brown in the recent GUYS AND DOLLS. Case closed on that! (As Dean Martin once said when surrounded by his voluptuous Golddiggers, "I bet all you men out there were wishin' you were bachelors". (Okay, not particularly politic in this day and age, but I'm not dead yet! Apologies to #MeToo)
Kershetsky plays an ambitious opera singer who will use any asset she has to get ahead. She overplays the character; of course, like everyone else. Her seduction scene with Tito is bawdy. But, in context to the rest of the insanity going on, beloved by the audience.
The Grande Dame of the opera company Julia (Gerri Weagraff) brings a professional resume to the cast, having toured nationally. Weagraff has appeared in over 50 Candlelight productions. Congratulations! I can well imagine she has played the snobby, imperious debutante before, but certainly not one looking like the Chrysler Building.
Ask any veteran director which they would prefer; farce or Shakespeare. The timing of entrances and exits, the doors opening and slamming shut, the Gatling gun dialogue and the overly broad expressions. All this must be meticulously timed and rehearsed and then rehearsed once more. The physical humor (Max on Saunders back with Tito beneath on the thumping bed is an example). Farce is comedy choreographed. Bob Kelly can add that title to his resume.
Set design by Envision Productions was great. Wigs and hair by Clayton Stacey. Costume design by Tara Bowers was excellent. The clown costumes were so much fun. Connell's bellhop outfit with that chic cap was quintessential. I imagined he would be selling Phillip Morris cigarettes at intermission.
Aisle Say humbly suggests Connell wear that in every future performance at Candlelight. If he were cast as Luther Billis (Candlelight co-founder John O'Toole's legendary role) in the upcoming SOUTH PACIFIC, I could definitely see that cap appearing in "There is Nothing Like a Dame".
Added to the menu this production run are green grapes catapulted from the stage. Also, a poll was taken at our table. There was unanimous anxiety over mashed potatoes being MIA.
I may attend again. Due to the fast and furious nature of the performance there is no doubt one misses a lot, especially the recreation of the show - done in reverse no less - prior to final curtain.
Through June 8 Candlelight Theatre 302.475.2313