Justin Bartha as Max and Tony Shalhoub
Photo by Joan Marcus


Tenor Undiminished in NY Revival: The Associated Press

Review of Ken Ludwig's Lend Me A Tenor on Broadway
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA (Associated Press)

NEW YORK — The frantic foolishness that fuels "Lend Me a Tenor" has not diminished in the two decades since the Ken Ludwig comedy's initial New York appearance.

If anything, the play's desperation quotient — a prime ingredient of any farce worth its belly laughs — has only increased in the show's first Broadway revival, which opened Sunday at the Music Box Theatre.

The actors have amped up the agitation in this stylish production, directed at a jet-propelled pace by Stanley Tucci. The angst in Ludwig's convoluted plot revolves around a seemingly dead opera singer named Tito Merelli, known as Il Stupendo, whose apparent demise in a Cleveland hotel room before a gala performance of "Otello" must be covered up by a local opera impresario. What to do?

The opera company manager (Tony Shalhoub) decides to substitute his nerdy, bespectacled assistant (Justin Bartha), an aspiring opera singer, for the famous tenor. But Tito has not expired, and before you know it the two men, in blackface, shaggy wigs and identical costumes, are causing considerable confusion.

Ludwig knows the mechanics of comedy, particularly how to set up a joke. And if not all of them land with bull's-eye precision, the laughs build with increasing regularity as the mayhem intensifies.

Shalhoub's emotionally explosive, overbearing opera manager is a kissing cousin of Max Bialystock, of "The Producers," and the actor bellows with a fine comic roar. Anthony LaPaglia, as the hammy Tito, complete with cheesy Italian accent, preens with equal amounts of ego and lechery.

Jan Maxwell scores major laughs as Tito's jealous wife, a spitfire who snarls with the intensity of a lioness protecting her cubs. The woman has reason to be suspicious — what with a seductive soprano (a sexy Jennifer Laura Thompson) and the young assistant's intended (a Kewpie-doll perfect Mary Catherine Garrison) in eager pursuit of the famous singer.

Also in the cast are the lovely Brooke Adams, looking too young to be a Cleveland society matron, and Jay Klaitz as an aggressive, strong-voiced bellhop who is a Tito groupie.

But what gives this production an unexpected boost is something not usually found in a farce — heart. That quality is supplied by Bartha, making his Broadway debut as the nervous would-be tenor. The actor is a superb farceur, at ease with the verbal complexity of the give-and-take dialogue and the physical demands of the role that have him bouncing around the stage.

Yet he also projects an appealing sweetness, even as the world around him collapses in chaos. In what is basically a parade of cartoon characters, Bartha's neophyte singer is a hero to root for.

John Lee Beatty's 1930s hotel setting is opulent and doesn't neglect the one design element required of every farce: a series of doors, which are slammed with increasing frequency as the evening progresses.

"Lend Me a Tenor" may not be Georges Feydeau, the French master of farce, but this American-grown homage provides more than enough laughter to keep Ludwig's outlandish story spinning merrily.

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