Tito in Lend me a tenor the musical.jpg

Joe Vincent as Henry Saunders in

Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical

Photo by Karl Hugh

Reviews

'Tenor' backup plan is a musical jackpot

Sunday, July 15, 2007
by Cody Clark

CEDAR CITY, UT. The 2007 summer season of the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City features three of the 37 known plays written by William Shakespeare: "Coriolanus," "King Lear" and "Twelfth Night." Three additional productions -- George Bernard Shaw's "Candida," Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker" and "Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical" by Brad Carroll and Peter Sham -- cast the spotlight on the Bard's more recent peers.
In the world of writing for the theater, they probably tell each other things like, "You have to slam some doors to make a farce," or "If you're doing a musical, then remember to think up some songs." There are 18 original songs in "Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical" (adapted from a popular Broadway farce that shares the first half of its title) and the main set includes six doors, each of which opens and closes approximately 18 times. So you may feel inclined to give writers Peter Sham (book and lyrics) and Brad Carroll (music) credit for covering the basics before a note has been trilled or a syllable spoken.

When it's all been said and sung, you'll also want to give them a standing ovation ... unless, as may well happen, you find that you're still weak in the knees, either from persistent laughter or a delightful joie de showbiz vivre.
The play is a Utah Shakespearean Festival original -- both Sham (a Southern Utah University assistant professor) and Carroll are longtime festival participants -- and this summer's run is its world premiere production. So there's the added attraction of seeing something that no one else (except for other 2007 patrons) has seen.

The original "Lend Me a Tenor," written by Ken Ludwig, enjoyed a run of 476 performances on Broadway, so it's not as though Sham and Carroll had nothing to work with. They begin to put their own stamp on Ludwig's Tony Award-winning comedy almost immediately, however, and it's hard to imagine the show being performed any other way by the time they're through with it.

"Tenor: The Musical" jumps right into its new skin with the cast of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company rehearsing, in Italian, for their big production of Verdi's "Otello." This scene introduces a nifty bit of stage
engineering, with subtitles projected above the players' heads just as you might expect to see them at an actual opera house -- watch for the gimmick to resurface later in the play.

Everything's in place for the big show except for its leading man, imported Italian tenor Tito Morelli. That small hitch leads directly into "Where the Hell is Morelli?" which will give you a good idea of the playwrights' mildly naughty sense of humor and introduces the key characters of impresario Henry Saunders (Joe Vincent) and his chief flunky, Max Garber (Jered Tanner).

Vincent and Tanner are an excellent team, providing a bracing mixture of showbiz bluster (from Saunders) and wide-eyed pluck (from Max). Both performances are entirely convincing, which tends to be business as usual at the festival -- I could probably write 1,000 words about each play just bylisting the performers and describing what I enjoyed about their work.

Only, if I did that for "Tenor: The Musical," then I might have to devote an extra 1,000 words to Steven Stein-Granger as the much-looked-for Morelli, who (unlike, say, Godot) rather quickly shows up. Stein-Granger's nativeseeming Italian accent is practically a performance all by itself. And his warmth and genuine charm are as seductive to the audience as they are to young Max, charged by a wary Saunders with handholding the VIP vocalist from his five-star penthouse all the way into the glare of the footlights.

The first act establishes both Morelli's fitness to perform and the unlikely set of circumstances that finds him either passed out or -- gulp! -- dead, just prior to curtain. With President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself in attendance, the show must go on, and meek Max must pretend to be majestic Morelli. What that sets up in the second act I leave for you to discover, though I will say that it's especially hard on the doors (remember them?) in Morelli's suite of rooms.

It turns out that the show is a bit front-loaded, with its three best musical numbers falling back-to-back-to-back at the end of the first act. "I Would Choose-a You All Over Again" is a tender ballad sung by Morelli and his wife, Maria (Melinda Parrett), while Morelli and Max share the sweet reassurance of "Before You Know It." Sandwiched between them is the real showstopper, "Be Yourself," an aspiration-affirming lung-twister that will more than convince you the play's title would be right at home on a marquee in Manhattan.

The costumes are perfect -- Morelli's stage getup, which ends up being shared by three different performers -- is a stitch, and Saunders's three wives have a particularly striking all-white ensemble for the night of the big
performance.

All of the sets are good, but the hotel suite has been especially well designed and there's a very clever piece of setwork to create the impression of Max, as Morelli, taking the stage while his back is, in fact, toward the actual audience.

Just about everyone in the cast has a strong set of pipes, but there are three standouts: Stein-Granger, who's playing the tenor, after all; Jane Noseworthy as Saunders's Morelli-obsessed and -- whoops! -- Max-affianced daughter, Maggie; and Tanner (Max). Noseworthy has a fabulous soprano voice and you can see how Maggie would be torn, at least until Tanner blows the lid off of his own talents (and the roof off of the theater ... almost) in "Be Yourself." Too bad it's only a play – those two would make beautiful music together.

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