Reviewed by George Basler
With slamming doors galore, a slew of double entendres and a plot that joyfully defies logic, Lend Me a Tenor has all the elements of a classic farce.
And these elements get a good going over in a spirited and engaging production that opened this past weekend at the Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott.
While Tenor has some slow moments in the first act, it has more than its share of laughs, especially in the frenetic second act, which the cast pulls off with great skill.
Doing a farce requires a knack for physical comedy, a good sense of timing and an acting style that is over the top but not self-consciously cartoonish. For the most part, the Cider Mill actors under the strong direction of Carol Hanscom, strike the right balance and pull things off without seeming to break a sweat.
The Ken Ludwig play certainly has a good pedigree. First staged in London in 1986 with Andrew Lloyd Weber, no less, as producer, it was produced two years later on Broadway and received nine Tony nominations. Since then it’s become a staple for community theaters across the country, which explains why the Cider Mill scheduled it for its annual midwinter farce.
The action takes place in 1934 in a hotel suite that has been reserved for world-famous opera star Tito Merelli, who has been booked to perform a gala production of Verdi’s Otello with the Cleveland Grand Opera.
Waiting for him at the hotel are the opera company’s manager, Saunders, who is about two steps away from a nervous breakdown, and Max, his milksop of an assistant, who is carrying a very large torch for Maggie, his boss’ daughter.
When the high-strung Tito accidentally takes a double dose of tranquillizers and ends up looking like he’s departed for That Great Stage in the Sky, a desperate Saunders pressures Max to dress up as the jealous Moor and play the role.
Of course, Tito wakes up and rushes in costume to the theater. Mistaken identify runs amok with both men in Otello costume and makeup cavorting around the hotel suite without running into each other.
It’s all pretty silly stuff, made even more so by the fact that Andrew Simek as Max and Ted Nappi as Tito look about as much alike as Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn Manson. But that’s the point. It’s all great fun and as delightfully frothy as a cappuccino.
In the main roles, Tom Kremer is hilariously dyspeptic as Saunders while Simek skillfully transforms Max from meek functionary to confident star who gets the girl. He’s someone to root for.
Nappi does a superb job as Tito. The character, while certainly the male equivalent of a prima donna, is also a bit befuddled and disenchanted with the wear and tear of his career, as well as being a genuinely nice guy. Nappi catches all of that and is falling down funny in the second act.
The fact that both Nappi and Simek sing pretty darn well adds a bit of class to the proceedings.
The supporting cast is strong as well. Zarina Latypova vamps effectively as an ambitious, hot-blooded soprano who hopes to bed Tito as a stepping stone to New York. Emily Goodell smoothly handles the ingenue role of Maggie. Maria Manzano-Johnson more than holds her own as Tito’s hot-tempered, but ultimately loving, wife.
In smaller roles, Dori May Ganisin does a solid job as a local socialite and culture vulture who has her own designs on Tito, and Brenden Gregory has some good moments as an obnoxious bellboy who keeps making a pest out of himself.
Sunday’s performance (Jan. 25), which I attended, was sold out, and the audience seemed to have a good time.
The Cider Mill always seems to do a solid job in staging farces, and Lend Me a Tenor is no exception. It made going out on a cold winter’s day enjoyable.
IF YOU GO: Lend Me a Tenor will continue at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 8 at the Cider Mill Playhouse, 2 S. Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Tickets are $28-$32: call 748-7393, or visit the box office from 12:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 12:30 p.m. until curtain time on performance days. Tickets also are available online at www.cidermillplayhouse.org.