Tenor Opens With A Bang, New York Daily News
By HOWARD KISSEL
New York Daily News Drama Critic
March 3, 1989
LEND ME A TENOR. By Ken Ludwig.
With Victor Garber, Philip Bosco, Ron Holgate, Tovah Feldshut, Jane Connel and others.
Set by Tony Walton. Costumes by William Ivey Long. Directed by Jerry Zaks.
At the Royale.
As soon as the curtain went up on â€śLend Me A Tenor,â€ť unleashing the almost blinding white resplendence of Tony Waltonâ€™s Art Deco set, I knew I would enjoy the play. This hunch was confirmed moÂ¬ments later when I heard a sound calculated to bring joy to any genuine theater loverâ€™s ears: the thud of a well-slammed door. Now door slamming is an art that has languished in the American theater in recent years. Actors have been more concerned with making political statements or developing their â€śsense memoryâ€ť than learning to slam a door with the gusto necessary for farce. In Ken Ludwigâ€™s play, the dazzling cast not only slams with Ă©lan, but they coordinate their slammings with a precision rare this far from Paris.
Waltonâ€™s set has six finely sculpted, deeply resonate doors. Need I say more? Need I actually describe the silly plot, which is peopled by an egocentric Italian tenor (yes, I know Iâ€™m being redundant); his histrionic wife; three other women who adore him; a crafty, aspiring American tenor; a pompous Cleveland impresario, and a resourceful bellhop?
As you might imagine, the plot would not withstand intense scrutiny. But, unlike another recent comedy that falsely calls itself a farce, â€śTenorâ€ť does obey the peculiar logic of the genre. It begins in the believable world and then snowballs into mirthful absurdity. It also follows another law of farce, depicting sex as mechanical and thus un-vulgar.
Ludwigâ€™s taste is also clear from his musical choices: He has two men sing the great duet from â€śDon Carlo,â€ť which left me so happy I could excuse puns like someone ordering champagne, asking â€śIs Mumm all right?â€ť and being told, â€śSheâ€™s fine.â€ť
The play could not be better than it is under Jerry Zaksâ€™ brilliant direction. Knowing that the slightest. faintheartedness can destroy a farce, he has his cast going full tilt every second.
I have sometimes found Philip Bosco a routine actor. But here he seems to use all the energy he has saved from coasting through his last three roles and plays the pompous impresario with admirable abandon and flair.
As a sort of Clark Kent turned Supertenor, Victor Garber is expectedly superb, especially in the way he drily tosses off Italian monosyllables. Ron Holgate, whose voice is suitably grand for the Italian tenor, and who has mastered such farcical essentials as a goony smile, is a perfect focus for this giddiness.
Tovah Feldshuh is deliriously wild as his hysterical wife. Caroline Lagerfelt, J. Smith-Cameron and the irrepressible Jane Connell make a powerful trio of fans. Jeff Brooks is so polished as the bellhop youâ€™d think heâ€™d spent a lifetime apprenticing for â€śRoom Service.â€ť The ensemble is as dazzlingly outlandish as William Ivey Longâ€™s costumes. Bravo!