26 January 2014

A Review of "Lend Me a Tenor" at Playhouse on Park

The secret to a good farce is a premise that, on the face of it, is eminently believable, but then, through the vision of the playwright, brought to life by both the director and the cast, pushes that credible premise to the verge of lunacy...while never forgetting the human heart at its core.  Not an easy feat, as you can easily imagine.

Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor is one of those scripts that, if done with energy and skill, works very, very well, and, as directed by Jerry Winters for Playhouse on Park, it delivers.

I should note that I have had a relationship, mostly by marriage, with classical performing arts companies (not unlike the Cleveland opera company depicted in the play), so the credibility factor of a) a narcissistic tenor, b) a panicked and frustrated executive director, c) several wannabe performers, and d) a whole bunch of fawning guild-members and/or fans, is decidedly high in my experience.  So, from the start, the farce could play out almost in any way, and I'd have been along for the ride.  In short, trust me, this scenario COULD happen (almost the way it's been imagined).   ;)

Mr. Winters' direction of the fine cast is crisp and light.  Highlights among the cast, for me, are Mike Boland's Saunders, Jeff Gonzalez's Max, Lilly Warton's Maggie, and Corrado Alicata's bellhop (with Saunder's proposed announcement to the audience the funniest thing I've heard in a long time).  While the other cast members (Robert Wilde as the larger-than-life tenor, Ashley Ford as the tenor's wife, Katie Vincent as the aspiring soprano, Donna Schilke as the head of the opera guild) all do very fine jobs, their casting underscores the one weakness of the production, through no fault of their talent or even portrayals.

Photo Credit: Rich Wagner
(l-r: Wagner, Boland, Gonzalez, Alicata, and Schilke)
The play is set in Cleveland, Ohio in 1934, but, aside from the art deco doors and the phone in the hotel suite, I never felt that this was anything but the present time.  While this feeling could stem from my too often thinking and dressing like it's 1942, every one in those latter roles looked too contemporary to me. Maybe I've seen the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera one too many times, but the head of the opera guild should look like Margaret Dumont (not the svelte, energetic Ms. Schilke), and, while opera singers throughout history have come in all shapes and sizes, a more Pavarotti-sized tenor, might have made the plot play out in an even more farcical fashion.

Now, this, perhaps idiosyncratic, view should not suggest that the execution of the play by the cast and crew isn't top-notch nor anything short of very, very funny.  Whether it's 1934 or 2014, the ego and the jealousy, the lust and the love, the ambition and the flatulence, are laughable and recognizable.

And, no matter the year, nothing can warm a very cold night (or day) like a good, hearty laugh -- not to mention a swell love story, too (but no spoilers here)!

Lend Me a Tenor runs at Playhouse on Park through February 9.  

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