Next to Neil Simon, Ken Ludwig may be the most prolific writer of comedies in this generation. Of the six which have had Broadway runs, the best known (and probably the best) is “Lend Me A Tenor,” a fast-paced farce which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.
I have to admit I have seen at least five different productions of this play and laughed as hard at this last as I did at the first.
The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, directed by Rick Ellis, starts off in high gear and continues from there in fast forward. In the cast are several seasoned community theater veterans as well as a couple of fledgling performers. Here the old and the new work well together.
Because it is a farce, don’t expect any polished quips or sharp repartee. It’s mistaken identities taken (literally) to the Max and one double entendre after another, all punctuated with lightening fast exits and entrances made through incredibly sturdy doors which, when slammed shut, stay shut, no mean feat in this increasingly frantic plot.
The action centers around the opening night of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company which has engaged Italian tenor Tito Merelli aka “Il Stupendo” (Tucker Curtis) to sing the leading role in “Otello.” His late arrival has company manager Saunders (Marc R. Adams) nervous and anticipating disaster. Saunders’ assistant Max (Geoff Trowbridge) shares his fears but, as a tenor himself, would not be upset if he could step into the role. Max is in love with Saunders’ daughter, Maggie (Libby Unruh), who is determined to meet Merelli, her idol.
The tenor’s arrival does little to calm the atmosphere. He has an upset stomach and a volatile Italian wife, Maria (April Sellers), whose jealousy level is always at the boiling point. Through the suite in search of the tenor come soprano Diana (Lydia Coppedge), a diva with the Met on her mind; Julia (Mary Ann Moran), chairman of the Opera Guild, who is anxious about the tardy star and the gallons of Shrimp Mayonnaise made for the gala reception now curdling in the Cleveland heat; and a Bellhop (Dave Kempher), another aspiring singer with a flash camera at the ready.
An excess of tranquilizers and a misinterpreted goodbye note are only the beginnings. By the final curtain, however, the proper pairings have been made and all ends well.
Special kudos to Max and Tito who are required to share an operatic duet as well as several classical solo lines and handle the daunting assignments as believably as possible.
The timing required of each cast member has to be more than sharp in order to elicit the laughter each in-and-out deserves. All deliver them beautifully.
The costuming plays no small part in the overall elegance of this production, set in 1934. The ladies of the cast wear their gala apparel with style (especially Moran whose outfit is aptly compared to the Chrysler Building) and the men remind us of just how elegant evening dress can be. The required Italian accents are delivered well and consistently by Curtis and Sellers who make hilarious marital sparring partners.
The show’s setting — adjoining rooms of a hotel suite — is elegant and detailed, two hallmarks of any scenic design by aristic/technical director John Shoup.
The fact that it sturdily withstands the punishment delivered by Ellis’ whiplash staging is a tribute to both crew and cast.
“LEND ME A TENOR” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and
Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol. For reservations call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or online at www.elkhartcivictheatre.org