Photo by Mark Baltzley


Jamie Farr stars in Lend Me A Tenor at Kansas City's New Theatre

On the (Jamie) Farr side of comedy
The Kansas City Star

Jamie Farr isn’t big on analyzing comedy.

He just likes to do it.

The veteran funnyman, best known as the cross-dressing Klinger on “M*A*S*H,” is in his 57th year of show business.

And he’s back in town to make people laugh. Farr stars in the New Theatre Restaurant’s production of Ken Ludwig’s farce “Lend Me a Tenor,” an exercise in slamming doors and mistaken identities that works like a Swiss watch with the right actors.

In a conversation, we asked Farr more than once why he thought farces almost never fail to make an audience laugh.

He had no academic theories to offer.

“You know what? It’s fun, it’s silly,” Farr said. “It’s got that screwball kinda Preston Sturges comedy in it. It moves fast. Some of these audiences, sometimes they don’t quite understand a farce. They think they’re waiting for great moments in theater.”

But Farr, speaking on a Friday morning, said his audience the night before was terrific.

“They got every nuance that we added plus the things Ken Ludwig put in it,” he said.

“But it’s like I told the audience after the show. I said, ‘You know what’s fun? You can come to the theater like this, especially now with everything going on in our society, you come to the theater and here’s a place for an hour and a half you just get lost.’ I think it’s just entertainment.”

Farr said he has performed in “Lend Me a Tenor” once before.

“I did it in Chicago about 20-some-odd years ago, and I said to myself: ‘Why would I do this again?’ ” Farr said. “Because this show, you get on the treadmill, man, and you don’t get off.”

For this production, director Joe Fox staged an elaborate curtain call, one in which the actors essentially perform the entire show in reverse at warp speed, but then he added one more final flourish.

Farr comes out, makes a few remarks to the crowd, and then seems to settle in for a long monologue about his life story — at which point the other actors leave the stage in disgust, slamming doors behind them.

Farr is joined in the New Theatre production by Broadway veteran Ken Krugman as well as a group of actors based in Kansas City or the region: Todd Carlton Lanker, Ashlee LaPine, Jan Chapman, Marilyn Lynch, Jill Szoo and newcomer Philip Russell Newman.

Lanker and LaPine, both 2009 graduates of the UMKC master of fine arts program, said working with Farr was a pleasure and an education.

Farr was willing to work with his colleagues outside of rehearsal, LaPine said, and was always available to talk about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to getting laughs.

“He wants an excellent production,” LaPine said. “His door was always open. He’d run lines with us. He’d talk about timing. He’s very energetic and very supportive.” Lanker, who works opposite Farr perhaps more than any other cast member, said Farr sometimes invited Lanker over to his house just to run lines and work out ideas. “He’s a really hard worker and an endless pool of energy,” Lanker said. “Very kind, very generous. He has such an enormous amount of experience with comedy and farce.”

“Lend Me a Tenor” is Farr’s seventh appearance at New Theatre. He said he loves working there and one reason is the skill level of the actors.

“You have a stable of actors here that not only complement many of us who come in, but inspire us,” Farr said.

“In most places you can’t find supporting casts who can carry a show on their own.”

Another inducement, Farr said, is the policy of Richard Carrothers and Dennis Hennessy, owners of the New Theatre, to treat actors like something better than hired help.

“Richard and Dennis treat performers with such dignity,” he said. “Actors would pay them to come here because they treat everyone so nicely.”

Farr makes his home in Ventura County near Los Angeles, but at the age of 76 he’s in demand like never before. He performed in two 10-week runs in Canada of “Tuesdays With Morrie” before coming to the New Theatre, where he will work 13 weeks.

Then he goes home for two weeks, but then he’s off to Canada again for another 10 weeks of “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

After that he’s off to Florida for a production of “Lend Me a Tenor” in Jacksonville. Then back to Canada for another run of “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

“That finishes my year and maybe me,” Farr said. “I don’t know if it’s ego or greed.”

“Lend Me a Tenor” runs through April 3 at the New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster St., Overland Park. Call 913-649-7469 or go to www.newtheatre.com.

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