BWW Interviews: Ian Talbot, Director Of LEND ME A TENOR: THE MUSICAL, Plus Pictures!
Hi Ian, welcome to BWW:UK. I saw the play of Lend Me A Tenor on Broadway last year, so I know a little bit about it, but tell us a bit about this production.
I was in the show when it started here. This is very different. I think what we've done is develop the farce. Instead of just Tito and Max running around, Saunders also dresses up. And instead of the one character in the play, the past love of Saunders has become three women, all of whom were married to him - three ex-wives. Because of the gala party, they serve shrimp and the refrigerator breaks down and everyone gets food poisoning.
Lots of people said to me - it's a musical already. I had to sing in the first act, but that was it. But I think it's a much better musical than a play. The music is so melodic, and when you try to publicise a show you always say it's got everything, but it's funny, and a lot of Ken Ludwig's script is retained. The music is wonderful, it makes you laugh, cry and hum the tunes on the way out. I think it's a good old-fashioned musical with a great score.
Adding music does seem an obvious move.
They've written some good operatic parodies. I'm a layman as far as opera goes. It's opera for the masses. There's one number that Diana sings in order to audition for Tito where she sings an excerpt of every bit of opera you and I would know.
Tell me about your character you played originally.
Yes, I'm directing now, but originally I played Max - he's the only normal character in it. He can sing, he just lacks confidence. He's funny - he's a sweet boy-next-door who comes good in the end.
And he stays the same in this version.
Yes, everyone's the same. I think you'll be a bit shocked to see a bit of opera at the start, and Max singing at the start of Act 2.
I was so surprised it went down so well on Broadway because it seems such a very British farce.
I don't think it's any accident that when the play was first done, it was done in England first, for precisely that reason; and I don't think it's any accident that the musical has started here. I hope this goes to Broadway and has a long life. Farce is our traditional sense of humour, and often Americans just don't get that.
What I have found in directing it, because we have American producers and writers, is what a different language we have. I'll say, "It's all gone pear-shaped," and they'll have no idea what I mean. I'll say "tabs" and they call it "curtains" - you think you have a universal language but we don't. I think they've got some jokes in there I've taken out and told them to reinstate when it gets to Broadway, just because we won't get them; at other times I've suggested a word change. Everyone's very enthusiastic - fingers crossed.
And it is a big cast for this.
27! You see the whole company at the start. The swings - in America, they're not allowed to be in it - they're in the beginning of both acts, because I think it's a soul-destroying job to sit in your dressing room. It does look like a huge company when the show starts.
What's it like directing something that depends so much on timing?
The door-slamming! I love comedy, and I think it's been a huge advantage I was in the show myself. It's terrifying what your brain retains. I thought I wouldn't remember it, then I read it and big chunks came back. We've workshopped it and done the out-of-town run, and I think I can recite the whole play, which is a huge luxury.
Did you find yourself using any of the original direction?
No, but I knew how some of the jokes worked, and I know that there's a rhythm to the door-slamming. It's almost like music. But that did take some time!
How do you decide what projects to do, whether it's acting or directing?
When I ran the Open Air Theatre, I was my own boss, so I decided what parts I wanted to play. When I left, I naively thought I'd be all right; I ended up playing Michael Ball's husband in Hairspray for a year, and the next year I directed panto, and did a lot of acting - the Orange Tree, a tour with Hampstead Theatre - and now the directing work has started to take over again.
I directed The Invisible Man at the Chocolate Factory, and two of the cast members were ill at separate times, but they don't have understudies there, so I stood in - one of them I had to go on in drag. I got the taste for acting again then, so I hope I get the chance to do some more acting soon, but I'm so lucky - I would never have got the chance to direct so many musicals as I have if I hadn't run my own theatre.
Lend Me A Tenor: The Musical begins previews at the Gielgud Theatre next week.
The company of Lend Me A Tenor: The Musical in the run at Plymouth
Michael Matus and Damien Humbley