Ensemble Cast Delivers Laughs in ‘Lend Me a Tenor’

Ensemble Cast Delivers Laughs in ‘Lend Me a Tenor’

Sal Polcino, Newsroom Manager

The Glendale Centre Theatre Group’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor,” directed by James Castle Stevens, is a rollicking romp set in a Cleveland luxury hotel suite in 1934 on the opening night of an operatic presentation of “Othello.”

The original production opened in London and on Broadway in 1989 and garnered two Tony awards.

This farcical exploration of the behind-the-scenes exploits of a production company rolls through trepidation, jealousy, mistaken identity and a hilarious scheme that backfires in two acts of two scenes each, never allowing the audience to come up for air between sight gags, pratfalls and rapid dialogue.

In Act I, the producer’s assistant, Max (Michael Perl), awaits the arrival of world-renowned tenor named Tito Morelli (John McCool Bowers). Morelli is late and Max, a shy and nervous fellow who has the responsibility of taking care of the opera star, paces nervously. When Max’s boss, the producer Saunders (Richard Large) enters, the interaction between the two characters channels the performance of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in the original production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” The impeccable comic timing, physical comedy and snappy dialogue set the stage for the next two hours of laughter.

When Morelli arrives tired and sick, Max, following orders from Saunders, slips some sleeping pills into his champagne, hoping that Morelli will get some rest before the sold-out performance only to find it impossible to wake him in time for the show. Saunders then convinces Max to dress in the costume of Othello, black face and all, and take the place of the famous tenor.

“Lend Me a Tenor” is not an intellectual play. The script employs jokes that are sometimes bawdy and sometimes downright silly, sometimes punctuated by overstated Italian accents, but the performance of this tight and well-rehearsed ensemble cast is a crowd-pleaser. In Act II, there are two long conversations that are based entirely on double entendres. By this time Morelli has awakened, donned his costume and, arriving late to the opera, is chased by police officers who believe he is an imposter.

Back in the hotel room, Morelli’s co-star Diana (Teena Pugliese) arrives thinking that she has just performed with him, when she had actually sung with Max. When Diana asks if she was good, Morelli, who is totally confused, thinks she is talking about sex. On the other hand when the producer’s star-struck daughter Maggie (Thandy Tolmay) enters, Morelli thinks she is just a fan, but Julia, who had a sexual encounter with the costumed Max earlier, is actually talking about sex.

“Lend Me a Tenor” is not a musical. The two short operatic pieces, sung by Perl and Bowers, are there to enhance character development.

The Glendale Centre Theatre, established in 1947, is an unassuming building on Orange Street A theater in the round surrounds the set which includes a sparsely furnished suite with a bedroom behind a partial wall and door, so theater-goers can see both rooms simultaneously. However, much of the fun comes from the five doors at the sides of the stage. The entire cast employs these doors in series of masterfully timed entrances and exits. The doors are an important part of the choreography.

The curtain call was designed to bring the audience to their feet as the actors ran through the stage re-enacting every scene at break-neck speed.

“Lend Me a Tenor” is fun, fast witty and clever. The play continues Thursday through Saturday with performances at 8 p.m. and a matinee on Saturday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $28 and $23 for seniors over 62. Glendale Centre Theater is located at 324 N. Orange St. For tickets visit www.glendalecentretheatre.com or call (818) 244-8481.