BWW Review: LEND ME A TENOR at LA Community Theatre
Paul Menezes (as Tito Merelli) and Benjamin Monahan-Morang (as Max), the actors who portray opera singers in Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor, at Community Little Theatre in Auburn do not look a bit similar. Menezes is stocky and bulky to Monahan-Morang's height and slender build. Nevertheless, their characters are mistaken for each other throughout most of Act II in Ludwig's clever script.
Of course, the presence of supposed look-alikes who aren't alike is a staple of farce, in which an audience's suspension of disbelief is part of the fun. That suspension is also required when Menezes, as Merelli, is taken for dead by two other characters. In fact, Tito has only slipped into a deep sleep after ingesting too many sedatives.
Director, Mitchell Clyde Thomas, has put together a very entertaining show that relies on physical humor and fast paced action with a nod to the style of French bedroom farce that surfaced in the late 19th century. The action is filled with manic confrontations, elaborate subplots, and fumbled attempts at seduction leaving the audience to need a scorecard to keep track of the action.
The setting is a hotel suite in Cleveland that has been reserved for Tito, a world-renowned tenor also known as "Il Stupendo." He is awaited anxiously by opera producer, Saunders (played by CLT favorite, Roger Philippon), and Max, the mild-mannered opera stage hand.
Tito arrives in a flurry with his tempestuous wife, Maria, (Rebecca Cole) and complaining of being ill. While only passed out on the hotel bed, Saunders and Max believe he is dead, and in order to save the performance, Max agrees to masquerade as the famous tenor.
So, after dressing in costume to take Tito's identity and convincing others of the ruse, including his love interest, Maggie (Caroline Carreras) and opera co-star, Diana (Shannon LoCascio), Max is set to take the stage in the opera debut. No surprise, Tito later awakens and suits up as Tito, leaving the audience to behold two identical tenors. Trouble, of course, ensues as mistaken identities run rampant in Act 2 and the audience joins in the fun of unweaving a complicated web of deception.
A patroness of the arts, Julia Everett, (Jane Mitchell) and a star struck bellhop, (Jason Pelletier) add to the fun of the web.
The show has a nice mix of Community Little Theatre veterans and newcomers to the troupe. That's always a good sign in a thriving community theatre troupe. Audiences tire of seeing the same faces in every production.
Every performer has a shining scene or two in the production. Monahan-Morang and Carreras are particularly engaging as the young couple, Philippon is appropriately abrupt and volatile as the blowhard character, and LoCascio and Mitchell have fun moments in their attempted seduction scenes.
Pelletier is a one man show as the bellhop who, in addition to providing wonderful comic moments, even gives a comic rendition to the preshow announcements done wonderfully in character. Usually, I cringe when a production does this, but somehow it worked with Pelletier's styling.
And while they don't have many scenes together, Cole and Menezes make a lasting impression of exactly how a bedroom farce should be played. They have an intense connection with their characters, their lines are crisp and without pauses, and their physicality is big, bold and larger than life. I wish that some of the other characters would have followed their example. Some of the other interactions lacked the robust luster that these two provided.
Technically speaking, the show held together nicely. The set was eye-catching and sturdy for a production that requires non-stop running, dashing, and the slamming of numerous doors.
This is the first production I have seen at CLT since the gigantic metal catwalk has been installed. I am convinced that it dampens the sound of the actors a bit. The entire cast could project a bit more to overcome this, especially some of the softer female voices that couldn't be heard clearly.
Community Little Theatre continues to show its willingness to tackle shows that might seem impossible for a community troupe. As they fill out their 79th season, plans are underway to produce such gangbusters as Avenue Q and Mamma Mia!. Congratulations to a troupe that doesn't rest on its laurels and strives to expand the possibilities of what they can do.