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LEND ME A TENOR Comes to Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres

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Who'd a thunk that Othello could be so funny? Okay, maybe Shakespeare's tragedy remains one of the most painful of his plays to watch, but if you just get the H out of the way Otello the opera can become a real laugh riot when it is at the heart of the Ken Ludwig's farcical "Lend Me A Tenor."

Mistaken identities, quick costume changes, romance and bromance, alarums and excursions, along with six (count 'em, six) stage doors banging open and slamming shut go back to Menander's ancient Greek comedies, which were passed along through the Romans and Shakespeare to our day and ended up, plop, in Ken Ludwig's lap. As the worthy heir of an ancient tradition this modern master of farce is well served by Director Charles Burr, who knows how to bring it all to life on the Round Barn stage.

The play is set in a time when opera was the life blood of a theatre, especially because, then as now, the rich and well-heeled support it not so much because they love it but because it's simply that's what's done. It is September of 1934 and the Cleveland Grand Opera Company is expecting to reap a financial harvest of overwhelming proportions when it scores the coup of landing the famed Tenor Extraordinaire from Italy, the stupendous Il Stupendo, Tito Morelli.

At the play opens Max, Factotum and Tenor Wannabe, is panicked because Il Stupendo seems to have missed his train. Played by DeBryant Johnson, we watch in awe as a Milquetoast gradually grows a spine, becomes a Master and wins his truelove's, well, hand. Johnson's debut in Nappanee is a triumph.

Danae DeShazer charmingly plays Max's erstwhile fiance Maggie, who gives her heart and soul to Il Stupendo -- or so she thinks! DeShazer is both demure and demonstrative in turn, turning her character's course on a dime.

The real Tenor, aptly played by Christopher Cherry, falls into a deep stupor in the wake of his wife Maria's walk out. Chloe Solan as Maria and Cherry excel in portraying the sort of love that both survives and perpetuates constant conflict!

Saunders, the entrepreneurial giant (with the heart of a mouse) assumes Il Stupendo is dead, and sees his imagined good fortunes crumble into ruins in a moment. Tucker Curtis, who plays Saunders, is a sure-handed performer who dominates the scene even as all seems lost -- until he gives in to Mad Max's plan to replace Il Stupendo himself! He's also the father who only thinks he controls his daughter.

Travis Bird, versatile as always, performs a star turn as the Bellhop who is both an opera aficionado and an efficient servant. Rita Kurtz returns to the Round Barn, and is hilarious playing the dowager Julia, who is monarchical and a sensual tiger -- at least in her own mind.

And no opera company is complete without its own local Diva -- in this case named Diana, played by Hannah Williams. Williams skillfully navigates the clever but difficult trail of double-entendre's in a scene where she attempts to use Il Stupendo as a stepping stone to her own imagined pedestal.

"Lend Me a Tenor" represents the Round Barn's annual departure from musical theater for a more conventional drama, but there sure is a lot of singing for a stage play, and that's to the good, because Christopher Cherry, DeBryant Johnson, and Travis Bird sparkle in their operatic moments.

Ludwig signs off on this riotous comedy with a fantastically fast recap of the entire show, doors opening and closing with a rapidity reminiscent (at least to my generation) of Laugh-In's slam bang one-liners. Taut and tight, this play delivers.

The Book for Lend Me A Tenor is by Ken Ludwig, Produced by special arrangement with Samuel French. At the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres through November 4th. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942 or go to www.amishacres.com.


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