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Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shalhoub and Justin Bartha in Lend Me A Tenor
Photo by Joan Marcus

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Review by John Simon

Ken Ludwig’s quarter-century old “Lend Me a Tenor” is revived on Broadway with a deft cast including Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia and Jan Maxwell, under the direction of that expert comedian Stanley Tucci. And as before, it entertains.

We are in 1934 Cleveland, where the struggling opera company has proudly snared the world’s greatest tenor, Tito Merelli, for Verdi’s “Otello,” about to open this evening. With not unusual opera-star presumptuousness, Merelli and wife Maria are late arriving, causing Saunders, the impresario, spectacular conniptions.

Worse follows. Tito and Maria are in a fight as richly comic as their thick Italian accents. Merelli, as tired as arrogant, refuses to attend the one scheduled rehearsal, and prefers a nap and a nip, flummoxed by Maria’s walking out.

Appointed as his watchdog is Max, a young nerd with vocal aspirations, unsuccessfully wooing Saunders’s daughter, Maggie, who has a crush on Merelli.

Dad wants Max out of his life, but needs him to police the tenor, who, however, has accidentally swallowed too many pills, not to mention a spiked drink. He passes out and is mistaken for dead.

Two Othellos

Saunders, desperate, agrees to have the eager Max don Tito’s duplicate costume and wig, as well as blackface makeup. Eventually there are two Otellos running around, confounding everyone, especially the ladies who throw themselves at them, who include Maggie, Diana the overambitious Desdemona and Julia, the officious socialite chairman of the opera board.

Justin Bartha, a relative newcomer, is brilliant both as the namby-pamby Max and the haughty surrogate Othello, with even funnier pseudo-Italian palaver. Shalhoub couldn’t be more comical as the resourceful but panicky Saunders. LaPaglia is the befuddled Tito, in a fog even thicker than his waistline. Maxwell, one of our finest comediennes, rages operatically as Maria.

Excellent work, too, from Mary Catherine Garrison’s tremulous Maggie, Jennifer Laura Thompson’s lushly seductive Diana, Brooke Adams’s grandly bossy Julia, and Jay Klaitz’s opera-besotted bellhop.

John Lee Beatty’s aptly bland hotel suite, Martin Pakledinaz’s attention-grabbing costumes, and Tucci’s perfervid direction should help keep this “Tenor” navigating the high seas of farce for a resounding run.

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