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

The Herald Journal

July 3, 2007
By Barbara Stinson Lee

CEDAR CITY — In 1930s Ohio, the Cleveland Grand Opera Company is preparing to open Verdi’s “Otello,” but the famed tenor who is to star is apparently nowhere to be found. Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me A Tenor” is the most popular play in America right now. Set to music for the first time by Peter Sham (book and lyrics) and Brad Carroll (music), creators of the Utah Shakespearean Festival’s popular “A Christmas Carol On The Air,” the broad farce is fall-out-of-your-seat-funny from start to finish.

“It isn’t every year that the Utah Shakespearean Festival presents the world premiere of a new play,” said Charles Metten, director of the USF New American Playwright Project, “but we have great hopes for ‘Lend Me A Tenor: The Musical.’ And if we don’t encourage new writers, we won’t have good theater in the future.”

Jered Tanner plays Max Garber, assistant to Henry Saunders (Joe Vincent), executive director of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. The company, including Saunders’ daughter, Maggie (Jane Noseworthy), and his three ex-wives Lillian Castillo, Lilian Matsuda, and Jessica Reiner-Harris) who direct the opera company’s guild, are anxiously anticipating the late arrival of world famous tenor Tito Merelli (Steven Stein-Grainger), slated to play the lead role in Verdi’s “Otello.”

As curtain time approaches on opening night and Merelli has not arrived, Saunders and Max try to come up with a plan B. While Max, who harbors a secret ambition to be an opera singer, tries to convince Saunders that he could play the lead role, Merelli and his high-strung wife Maria (Melinda Parrett) arrive to an all-out welcome. Tito is not well, though, and Maria has lost patience with his constant pursuit of other women. In an effort to soothe his upset stomach, Merelli shares a drink with Max, which Max has spiked with medicine. Merelli takes more medicine, eventually collapsing into a deep sleep, but not before finding a “Dear Tito” letter from Maria, who has left him.

The show belongs to Tanner’s Max and Stein-Grainger’s Tito, even though he is thought to be dead for most of the first act. Vincent’s Henry Saunders is also a big, blustery, bossy character who adds to the growing hysteria around the opening night performance. Complicating the plot even more is diva Diana Bateman (Jill Van Velzer) who is betting of Merelli to save her rapidly sinking career; Maggie, almost engaged to Max, but ready for a fling with Merelli, and bellman Albert Rupp, a frustrated playwright who has hidden copies of his most recent play all over the Merelli’s hotel room.

All of this action sets the audience up for laugh after laugh.

The musical is bright and colorful. Sham, whose re-write of the script was blessed by Ludwig, has filled the show with cleverly-written dialogue and lyrics that, with Carroll’s music, make for a fastpaced two acts.

The highlight of the show is its signature number, “Be Yourself,” sung first by Max and Merelli, then reprised by Max alone. “Be Yourself” is followed almost immediately in Act I by a tender little number, “Before You Know It,” which gives the audience and the cast a bit of a respite from craziness, which only heightens when the second act opens. An ensemble number, "Lunatic at Large" reminds all that the insanity continues.

“Lend Me A Tenor: The Musical” has a world of potential, and is bound to be picked up and produced widely. Sham and Carroll were still “tinkering” with the script two days before the musical’s opening night. Whoever picks this musical up next will be hard pressed to improve on the work of the original cast or its director, Roger Bean. This production is smart, sophisticated, and wonderfully funny. It has a few spicy moments based on mistaken identities, ambition, a fling, and Diana’s desire to do anything to further her career. The comic timing of this ensemble cast is exquisite.

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