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From left, Tito (Thomas Hinesley), Saunders (Daryl Roberts), Diana (Keely Dervin), Maggie (Brittany Asseff), the Bellhop (Patt Quinn) and Maria (Barbara Nemko) confront yet another catastrophe in Dreamweavers’ comedy “Lend Me a Tenor.”

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'Lend Me a Tenor' draws waiting list at Dreamweavers, leaves packed house howling

By SASHA PAULSEN

An auspicious start to 2010: Dreamweavers Theater packed them in opening night for its first play of the year — a sold-out house and a waiting list too.

Even better news? The play is worth the wait, if you couldn’t get tickets last weekend.

“Lend Me a Tenor,” a loopy farce by Ken Ludwig, thrives on overacting — indeed, it requires it — and this enthusiastic cast makes the most of every opportunity to strut, swoon, shriek, seduce strangers or attempt to commit suicide with a dinner fork.

The premise of the play is: The Cleveland Grand Opera has secured a coup in engaging the great Italian tenor Tito Merelli to perform “Othello” on their very stage.

It is enough to send everyone into hysterics, particularly the high-strung, lunatic manager, Saunders, played with wonderful rolling-of-the-eyes, tearing-of-the hair credibility by Daryl Roberts.

Saunders’ goal is to get his star to the stage with no crisis — Tito has a legendary fondness for food, wine and women, which can render this a challenge. Saunders hands the job over to his meek, mild, hardworking and unappreciated gofer, Max (Scott Caswell).

Max is in love with Saunders’ winsome daughter, Maggie (Brittany Asseff), whose reciprocal affection is severely afflicted by the advent of Tito, who once made her faint in Italy.

Also profoundly interested in Tito are the head of the Opera League (a resplendent Randi Storm), the sultry Diana (Keely Dervin), who sees Tito as a promising stepping stone for her own opera career, and the starstruck, singing bellhop (Patt Quinn).

Into this steps Tito, the star, played with magnificence and lunacy by Thomas Hinsley, and accompanied by his wife, Maria, a madwoman.

Take my word, this is Barbara Nemko as you have never seen her before.

But you fully expect her to strangle her errant husband with her bare hands before the play is over, and then preen and sashay off the stage.

When Maria discovers Maggie, skulking in Tito’s closet, hoping for an autograph (at least), Maria delivers a ringing lament to heaven and stalks off.

The distraught Tito attempts to stab himself with a fork.

And when Max finds the tenor passed out on his bed, he and Saunders assume the worst — their star is dead, while the opera house is filled with waiting guests and loads of shrimp mayonnaise for the reception.

Where will the half-crazed Saunders find a hero to rescue him from this debacle? His only hope is the unlikely, unenthusiastic Max.

Directed by Olivia Cowell, in her first production at Dreamweavers, this is one of the troupe’s funniest and most polished productions. It is anchored by Caswell’s comic, versatile performance as Max — he is nothing short of brilliant.

To find out how this all resolves itself to a happy ending, you have to get in line to get a ticket before the Dreamweavers’ run ends Jan. 24, but the dashing, loopy cast will make it worth your while.

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