Solana Beach, CA—I can’t remember when the last time was that I had such fun in the theatre as I did the night I attended the North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s farce, Lend Me A Tenor. I know, it’s supposed to be funny. It is after all a farce. But oft times all that’s made out to be funny doesn’t turn out to be that way. So when I can laugh out loud for the better part of an evening, I’m going to shout about it.
Lend Me A Tenor was the winner of 3 Tony’s and 4 Drama Desk Awards. It was produced on the West End in 1986 and Broadway three years later. That it has sustained its humor all these years is a tribute to both the playwright and the superb cast seen at NCR, plus the fact the play is set in the 30’s, defying any time restrictions.
Here’s the setup: The Cleveland Opera Company has invited the famous tenor Tito Merelli ((Bernard X. Kopsho) to perform his centerpiece opera “Otello” in a benefit performance for the company.
When the play opens you get an idea of the frenzy that might ensue just by listening and watching Saunders (Ted Burton), who happens to be the manager of the Cleveland Opera Company in a panic on the phone as he shouts in disbelief that his guest tenor Tito has yet to show up. But that doesn’t stop Saunders and his assistant Max (Christopher M. Williams) from making plans to keep Tito iunder wraps when he does arrive until he makes it to the opera house to perform. In essence, Max is to stick like glue to Tito and make sure that there is no womanizing or drinking or interruptions before the performance.
When Merelli finally does show up late he puts everyone in a tailspin. He’s under the weather and a bit nervous about his performance. Not helping matters a lot is the fact that his firebrand wife Maria (Jessica John) isn’t too happy with her husband right now as they are in a down and out sparring match. Making a not so great situation worse Saunders’ daughter Maggie (Courtney Corey) has a mad crush on Merelli, but is engaged to Max, and is insisting on meeting the star. Diana (Jacque Wilke) his leading lady wants a good word from Merelli to help with her career, Julia (Jill Drexler) a patron of the arts wants a shot at the celebrity as well and the Bellhop (Albert Park) from the hotel, who is a star struck fan, also wants some of the action.
In the meantime the exhausted Merelli passes out from wine and drugs administered by Max, who panics when Merelli confesses that he can’t seem to sleep. Max and Saunders think he’s dead because they can’t wake him from his drug and alcohol induced sleep.
Maria disappears in a huff, Maggie ends up in Tito’s closet off the bedroom as does Diana, (but she’s in the bathroom off the bedroom) Max dons a blackface and goes on as Merelli’s Otello, Merelli awakens and gets ready to perform, not having a clue as to what’s going on outside his bedroom and one case of mistaken identity piles on top another until it looks like an Abbot and Costello shtick of Who’s on first?
With all the mistaken identity, doors slamming and opening in different rooms simultaneously, (Marty Burnet designed an elegant hotel suite with all white furniture and accent pieces illuminated by Matt Novotny’s lighting design), a bevy of women prancing about in different stages of dress (the stunning period costumes are credited to Sonia Lerner and deservedly so) trying to attract the attention of Merelli, an angry manager trying to keep the peace, a leading man who is clueless and a jealous wife who is out for the kill the next woman who looks at her husband, mayhem prevails!
Timing, they say is everything especially in a in farce and director Matthew Wiener and his excellent cast are right on the money! This production operates like a finely tuned instrument with all the parts in sync with each other and it is hilariously funny starting with the arrival of Tito and his wife Maria.
If there were a study in contrasts, they are it. He’s a big burly guy with sheepish grin and gives a bravo performance, and she’s trouble with a capital T. pulling off one of the funniest performances I’ve seen by her. Both are hysterical in opposite ways. He has a stupefied look about him and she acts the part of the Corleone Family of Godfather fame. Jessica John shines as a Maria.
The high-strung performance of Saunders is personified in the personality and body language of Barton and Williams’ Max is as talented a singer (read tenor) as he is as the befuddled boyfriend and would be lover of Maggie. Courtney Corey is a hoot as the swooning opera idol, Maggie. She looks amazing in Lerner’s costumes and in Peter Herman’s hair designs or wigs (which ever comes first), as does Jacque Wilke and Jill Drexler.
Drexler is perfect as the society gal who is likened (in her costume, hair and tiara) as looking a bit like the Chrysler Building and Wilke adds to the confusion by ending up in bed with Tito only to have Maria walk in on them. What else is there to say?
The frosting on the cake comes at the very end right after the first curtain call when the cast runs through the entire show in pantomime starting from the end taking all of about 90 seconds and ending up right where they began. I can’t recommend it enough.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 9th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Farce
Where: 987 Loma Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$49.00