BWW Review: 30th Anniversary of Comical Farce LEND ME A TENOR Celebrated with Lots of Laughter at Theatre Palisades
Theatre Palisades is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Broadway opening of Ken Ludwig's LEND ME A TENOR by presenting the hilarious comedy, which won three Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards, directed by Sherman Wayne who expertly utilizes a cast of energetic performers on his 6-door designed set to great comic effect. This timeless laugh-a-minute, constantly moving farce has been translated into 16 languages and performed in 25 countries, encouraging audiences to put aside their troubles for a few hours and laugh at the improbable and outrageous antics taking place in a Cleveland, Ohio hotel suite in 1934.
The plot, in a nutshell, revolves around The Cleveland Opera Company's booking of the renowned tenor Tito Merelli, known to his fans as "Il Stupendo," to entertain its donors at their gala fundraiser as the opera clown Pagliacci, a politically correct updating from the original script requiring the opera Otello to be performed which requires two actors to appear in black face. And while that makes it easier for the two men to camouflage their differences, the same can be done as the greasepaint white-faced clown to great effect. Luckily for Wayne, he found two wonderful actors in Peter Miller (as Tito) and Jeff DeWitt (as Max), both of whom can wonderfully sing the required operatic solo for the role. And just wait until you hear the two harmonize so beautifully together before things begin to unravel even before the opera star leaves his hotel room.
The play begins with Max (DeWitt) and his long-term girlfriend Maggie (Holly Sidell, who presents this character a bit too superficially as an opera groupie out for her first fling before committing her life to Max), as they are awaiting the arrival of Tito (Miller, who first appears in a purposely bad toupee, generating much laughter when it gets tossed aside). Maggie's uncle Saunders (Greg Abbott, whose rubber-faced and wide-eyed expressions allow him to steal every scene in which he appears), the opera company's General Manager, appears through the suite's front door, concerned the star is so late he will miss the dress rehearsal, while the hotel bellhop (Randy Oppenheimer, who also sings impeccable arias) keeps popping up hoping to get a chance to meet the star as well.
Tito and his Italian wife Maria (Maria O'Connor, brilliantly as much over-the-top as Miller's Tito), finally arrive and chaos ensues when she finds the autograph-seeking Maggie hidden in his closet and mistakes her for his latest secret lover, of which he has had many! Maria leaves him and the distraught tenor accidentally is given a double dose of tranquilizers to calm him down so he will agree to perform as planned, causing him to pass out. Can he go on as planned? Or will someone have to take his place? But how is that possible?
As the passed out Tito, Miller is a wonder in being able to remain perfectly still for so long during the scenes which follow since, as he shared with me, the talented character actor was "sweltering in a hot jacket under an equally hot blanket" the entire time. What wonders an actor will do for his craft! Complicating matters is that Max and Saunders believe Tito is dead. Saunders, determined the show will go on, asks his assistant Max to impersonate the opera star. What follows is a chain-reaction of mistaken identity, plot twists, farcical double entendres, innuendos, and constant entrances and exits through many doors leading from one room to the other as each comical situation unfolds.
Attention-grabbing supporting players include the show's producer Martha Hunter as Julia, the opera company's President, who appears in a sparkly Chrysler Building-inspired evening gown to add elegance to the evening, and Stephanie B. Stern as Diana, the shapely opera diva who accompanies Tito during the gala and then appears in a form-fitting, body flattering evening gown to seduce him into helping her to advance her career. In perhaps one of the most comical cases of mistaken identity in the play, Max (as Pagliacci) and Maggie (dressed in white lingerie) cavort on the living room couch while Tito (as Pagliacci) and Diana (decked out in sexy black lingerie) tumble together in the bedroom bed.
An angry wife, a presumed death, crazy costumes designed by June Lissandrello, secret sex romps, loads of slamming doors and mistaken identities make for a delightful, farcical comedy. Director Sherman Wayne encourages you to attend with a willing suspension of disbelief, putting aside your rational faculties and sense of realism/logic for the sake of theatrical merriment and enjoyment, just as worldwide audiences have been doing for the past 30 years. It's an ideal way to laugh your troubles away for a few hours!
LEND ME A TENOR by Ken Ludwig continues through Sunday, July 7, 2019 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. at Theatre Palisades Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd. (just south of Sunset Blvd.). Pacific Palisades 90272 with free onsite parking as well as on the surrounding residential streets. General admittance tickets are Adults $22; Seniors & Students $20, available by phone at 310-454-1970 or online at http://www.theatrepalisades.org/
Photo credit: Joy Daunis