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Romain Fruge as Max in Lend Me A Tenor, The George Street Playhouse; PC: T. Charles Erickson

Lend Me A Tenor, Northern Stage

Times Argus
Article published Oct 11, 2005
Northern Stage has fun with 'Lend Me a Tenor'

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – "Lend Me a Tenor" is just plain fun, and that's what Northern Stage does with it – it has fun, and so does the audience.

The Upper Valley professional Equity theater opened a fast-paced and hilarious production of the popular Ken Ludwig farce last week, one that fully enjoys the wonderfully bizarre characters.

The Cleveland Grand Opera has hired Tito Merelli to open its 10th anniversary season, hoping that the world's greatest tenor will bring financial rewards to the second-rate company. Merelli first scares company manager Saunders and his assistant Max by being late, then proves to be all he is reputed to be – a heavy drinking womanizer.

If that weren't enough, everyone wants to meet Merelli. The bellhop wants an audition; his costar Diana wants career help, as well as a little affection; and even Max's girlfriend thinks the macho tenor is the ideal candidate for "a fling." In order to keep Merelli out of trouble until the performance, Max secretly administers a sleeping draught into his Chianti. What Max doesn't know is that Merelli's wife Maria has already given him sleeping medication so that the tenor can nap before the performance. If that weren't enough, when the jealous Maria leaves him as well as a note, Merelli takes even more.

When Max goes to awaken Merelli, he finds him lifeless. If Merelli doesn't go on, everyone will leave and their money will have to be refunded. Can Max, an aspiring tenor, impersonate Merelli? To find out, everyone goes through a series of madcap scenes that, though silly and predictable, are terribly funny.

Northern Stage's production, directed by Catherine Doherty, enjoys all of this madcap humor. At Saturday's performance, it was often difficult to stay in my seat it was so funny. (And the singing – limited in amount – was just fine.)

The key to this production's success was a fine cast performing well as an ensemble. James Donegan's Max was particularly effective as he didn't overplay the role, resulting in not only a very funny performance but a sympathetic one. The same could be said of Shanara Gabrielle's Maggie, who managed to be a desirable love interest – to both Max and Merelli – and very droll as well.

Over-the-edge, and appropriately so was Tony Lawson's Merelli – a really good caricature of an Italian opera star. He was matched in passion by Concetta Rose Rella's jealous Maria. And Carol Dunne's Diana – hoping for a jumpstart on her career – vamped her way beautifully and hilariously into Merelli's bedroom.

When Robert Boardman as Saunders overplayed his part in the beginning, it was slightly jarring, but his style soon merged with the rest. The same cannot be said for Ruth Hastings as Julia, the opera's board chairwoman, whose over-the-top performance suggested more a drunk than a self-important grand dame with lecherous thoughts.

Still, with a beautiful art deco set by Scott Aronow, excellent costumes by Rachel Kurland and effective lighting by Matthew Guminski, Northern Stage's "Lend Me a Tenor" delivered a delightful evening of comedy.


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