Tenor Hits a High for Broadway Farce
David Patrick Stearns
March 3, 1989
NEW YORK â€” Broadway's newest farce, Lend Me a Tenor, doesn't need to be lent much of anything.
Ken Ludwig's uproarious farce, which opened Thursday at the Royale Theater, concerns the hubbub over a performance of Verdi's Otello â€” and the famous but impossible Italian tenor who may or may not show up for it. As if that isn't rich enough, the play is set in 1934 Cleveland, and Ludwig milks that for all the provincial pretensions it's worth.
There's nothing original in its slamming doors, mistaken identities and double entendres. But written with such gusto, Tenor reaches hysteria of operatic proportions.
Jerry Zaks' stylish, symmetrical direction never lets anybody get too cartoonish. Unlike the gag machines that pass for characters in Neil Simon's Rumors, these people always act on recognizable, even painfully human motivations.
There's the tenor's justifiably jealous wife, whom Tovah Feldshuh plays as a psychotic Anna Magnani; Diana (Caroline Lagerfelt), the opera starlet determined to sleep her way to the Met; and Julia (Jane Connell), the chairwoman of the opera guild who is dressed like a Christmas tree and is desperately seeking status.
Best of all is the panic-stricken opera impresario Saunders, played with breathtaking bombast by Philip Bosco, and Max, his Walter Mitty-ish assistant, played with great charm by Victor Garber.