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Alison Fraser in Lend Me A Tenor at The George Street Playhouse

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Lend Me A Tenor Takes the Chill Out of Theatre

Lend Me A Tenor at The Diamond Head Theatre

Honolulu Star Bulletin

Review by John Berger
jberger@starbulletin.com

Good theater takes us away from the here and now and into the imaginary world created by the playwright. Judged by that criteria alone, Diamond Head Theatre's production of Ken Ludwig's retro comic/farce, "Lend Me a Tenor," is very, very good theater. Director Rob Duval and his tight-knit ensemble did such a great job taking me away from the here and now that I forgot how cold it was in the theater.

How cold was it, you ask?

It was so cold on opening night last Friday that I had to fight the temptation to either snuggle closer to the woman next to me, or retrieve the blanket I keep in the trunk of my car in case of car trouble. True, a gentleman would never try to snuggle with a woman he isn't already on snuggling terms with, even when the woman is question is actress/dancer/choreographer Katherine L. Jones, and that blanket in the trunk is ragged and old, but the temperature in the theater was so close to glacial that my resolve was weakening.

And then Act II started and I was swept away to another place and time.

It was much warmer there.

The year, 1934. The place, Cleveland, Ohio. The Cleveland Opera is presenting world-famous Italian tenor Tito Morelli in the title role of "Othello." Morelli arrives with his wife, Maria, and is set up in a hotel suite. Unfortunately, Tito and Maria fight and she leaves. Tito takes an overdose of sleeping pills and dies.

Where does that leave the opera? As luck would have it, the director's all-purpose gofer is an avid opera fan who knows every line in the show and has at least a passable voice. The biggest problem is that he is a "nobody." On the other hand, it would have been Morelli's first show in Cleveland, nobody in Cleveland knows what he sounds like, and he'd be performing in black-face anyway. What do they have to lose?

As if it could be that simple!

"We don't need luck," one character mutters. "We need a miracle!"

Director Duval handles the material perfectly. Act I proceeds at a brisk but comfortable pace as the major characters are introduced, their personalities develop and the story progresses through frenzied efforts to pull off the scam before Morelli's death is reported to the police.

The momentum increases in Act II. Doors slam, two characters end up in their underwear and two men in Othello costumes try to make sense of what people are saying to them.

Derek Calibre (Max) is the foundation of much of the early action, as the hard-working, underappreciated gofer who gets no respect from his boss and no romantic reaction from his boss' daughter. Calibre plays Max as an honorable man in search of the backbone needed to take his place in the world.

Larry Bialock (Tito Morelli) is superb as the world-weary yet still vital Italian tenor. Bialock keeps his accent in place through rapid twists and turns in the action and succeeds in conveying a wide range of emotions even in black-face.

Gerard Altwies (Saunders) is excellent as Max's tyrannical boss. He doesn't miss a trick, showing timing and comic finesse that are spot-on.

Melanie Garcia (Maggie) is charming as Saunders' virginal daughter, a woman who says that she wants to "hear bells" when she kisses a man, and that she doesn't "hear bells" when she's around Max.
Veteran actor Euphrosyne V.E. Rushforth (Maria) also stands out with her over-the-top performance as Morelli's spitfire wife.

Others in the cast also make important contributions. Wesley Busser has several good scenes as the ambitious singing bellhop who wants to audition for Morelli. Tricia Marciel (Diana) is perfectly cast as a predatory opera diva who sees Morelli as her stepping stone to better things, and who is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to win his favor. Alexandra Horn (Julia) completes the cast with a vibrant, well-rounded portrayal of a wealthy opera supporter who wants to meet Tito for her own purposes.

A beautifully detailed hotel suite set, well-tailored costumes and clean sound enhance the actors' work. Opera is an important part of the story, and short operatic passages emphasize the cultural milieu -- and Max's success as a stand-in.

One comic scene is enhanced by the contrast between Garcia's short blond bob, Rushforth's long black tresses and Marciel's bright red wig. Horn steals another in a sequined gown, and, yes, we all hear the bells ringing when

Maggie kisses the right man!

Fast, fun and perfectly played, DHT's "Tenor" is very, very good theater.

But, next time I'll take a jacket -- or maybe a parka.

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