LEND ME A TENOR Is Frantic, Frenetic Farce at Theatre Harrisburg
By Marakay Rogers for BroadwayWorld.com
There are few things funnier than a well-written farce, and LEND ME A TENOR is one of the best. After two Tonys, four Drama Desks and a recent successful Broadway revival, York native Ken Ludwig's play still goes strong, and it's currently on stage at Theatre Harrisburg, practically in Ludwig's former back yard. The tale of the trials and tribulations of the Cleveland Grand Opera's fiasco-ridden production of "Otello" is up with BOEING, BOEING and NOISES OFF as possibly the funniest thing ever to land on stage. The distraught general manager Saunders (Theatre Harrisburg veteran David Richwine), his star-struck daughter Maggie (charming relative newcomer Christina Shindel) and desperate assistant Max (Brandon Rubinic, in his first leading role) have to find, tame, and just possibly resurrect from the dead, star Italian tenor Tito Morelli (local theatre trouper Anthony Ariano, at perhaps both his funniest and his most Italian).
Putting a damper on Maggie's hysterical crush and on Tito's mood is his unexpectedly present wife, Maria, played by Anthony Ariano's own wife, area performer Ann Ariano. She's the best possible choice for Tito's wife - a talented performer in her own right, her chemistry with her husband is perfect for Maria. Any two good performers can create a plausible romance on stage, but it's playing a couple having a spat that takes some work to look solid. With no aspersions whatsoever on the Arianos' marriage, these two know how to pitch a fit at each other in front of a full house, and they're classic.
Maggie's nearly-hysterical crush on an opera tenor may seem strange to a modern audience, but women of all ages were throwing themselves on over-age, overweight tenors as recently as Luciano Pavarotti, and they very likely still are doing so. Maggie has the operatic equivalent of what current teens have in "Bieber fever," and Shindel does a fine job of expressing the 1930s equivalent. Saunders has his hands full trying to control his daughter as well as an opera company and an impossible visiting star, and Richwine's Saunders has everything but visibly throbbing facial muscles expressing his day from hell as he races about Cleveland trying to make sure the show goes on. Max, saddled with babysitting Tito between his arrival in Cleveland and the performance, trying to get Maggie to notice him - difficult at the best of times and impossible in the presence of Maggie's crush, and worrying about his own non-existent singing career, bears the brunt of saving the Cleveland Grand Opera's performance, whatever (and whoever) it takes. Rubinic certainly has talent, but he's new enough that he's overshadowed by Richwine and Ariano when he's with them - but then, Ariano's Tito Morelli overshadows everything and everyone, as Ariano has no difficulty bringing Tito's immense ego, physical presence, and sheer operatic talent to life.
The problems take place in a hotel suite with six doors, two costumed Otellos, two women who have somehow managed to lose their dresses - the besotted Maggie and the ambitious Cleveland soprano, Diana (Angela Ruediger in a fine non-musical comic turn, looking exactly like the opera soprano she actually is when not on the theatrical stage instead), multiple doses of sleeping pills, and a note by... someone or other... that could be a suicide note, unless of course it isn't. It's a story where the chaos never stops, and where everything really is happening at once, which is exactly how farce should be.
Also worthy of note, in the two smaller roles of the show, are Carole M. Olmstead as Aunt Julia, queen of the opera board and the opera gala, herself smitten by Tito Morelli, and Alex Principe as the celebrity-obsessed, would-be-singer of a hotel bellhop, in one of the funniest on-and-off character parts ever written into a farce.
Will the opera go on? Did Tito kill himself after his last go-round with Maria? Who showed up at the opera in an Otello costume, trying to break in backstage? Can Max save the day, or will Saunders sack him for ruining the opera company's make-or-break event? And is the shrimp in mayonnaise edible, or will Julia be responsible for poisoning the major donors? All of these are answered (with the possible exception of that nasty little shrimp problem) during the hilarity in the Morellis' suite.
Nicely directed by Dave Olmstead, who has the pacing that this show requires down cold, and beautifully costumed by Paul R. Foltz. Kudos, in particular, to Nels Martin and Brian M. Ariano for the set and its construction, which is an especially nice piece of work. Without being overly elaborate, it's a neatly constructed luxury hotel suite of the old school, and it works perfectly; less convincing sets have shown up on professional stages.