Little Theatre, Town Players of Newtown: The Cleveland Grand Opera has sold out the house because the world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli is scheduled to perform. Saunders, the general manager has taken care of everything, including assigning Max to Merelli to make sure the tenor doesn’t drink or womanize before the performance.
Since this is Ken Ludwig’s laugh-out-loud farce, Lend Me A Tenor, everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong.
For starters, Saunders is a nervous wreck because it’s almost time for rehearsal and Merelli has not yet arrived. When he finally does arrive, he and his wife are having an Italian-style argument – full of passion and fiery accusations shouted out at each other in rapid and rampant Italian. Everyone wants Merelli to calm down. His wife tells him to take his tranquilizers. Instead of two pills, he takes four. Max, unaware that he has already taken medication, slips a couple more pills in the tenor’s drink. From that point on, the comedy never stops. Merelli cannot be awakened from his drug-induced sleep, so Max and Saunders believe that he is dead. Max, an amateur singer, steps into the role of Otello.
So perfectly matched in height, stature, and talent are Kevin McDonough as Max and Brian De Toma as Merelli, that with darkened faces, kinky wigs, and identical costumes, they are difficult to tell apart. McDonough is by far the funniest Max this reviewer has ever seen (and I’ve seen many many productions of this show). His comic timing is impeccable and his gestures are so hilarious that you laugh out loud at his every action. De Toma’s Italian is as convincing as his character’s superiority, and his performance as a dead man with everyone shaking him, jumping on him, and shocking him is quite amazing. How he manages not to laugh or move is truly a miracle. Daniel J. Mulvihill Jr. has been in many Town Players’ productions, but by far he plays this role of Saunders with extraordinary assurance. He’s so natural, that it’s easy to forget that he is acting. Amy Strachan as Maggie, Saunders’ daughter, Max’s fiancée, and Merelli’s biggest fan, does a fine job though her first, voluminous costume is a bit distracting.
Laurel Lettieri as Merelli’s wife Maria delivers a whirlwind, showy performance that makes you want to see this character appear on stage more often. She is absolutely a natural in the part, her broken English superb, and whenever she is on stage she sets off a flurry of activity.
Christopher Cooney as the butinski bellboy delivers comic energy as does Elaine Reidy as Julia, patron of the arts. Rosemary Howard as the soprano with “professional” credits, adds a big touch of class to the cast and the performance.
The actors are not the only ones who deserve kudos for this production. It is a joy to see such a fine set gracing this stage so effectively. Because the set must show the interior of the suite complete with bedroom and with plenty of doors as well as the sitting area, the performance space features a half of a dividing wall, which allows the audience to see action in both adjacent rooms at the same time. That it is designed by Tim Huebenthal, who also directs this outstanding comedy, speaks volumes about Huebenthal’s vision. He leaves nothing to chance. Nick Kaye’s sound design is executed by Herbie Perlman to split-second perfection. When lovers kiss and bells go off, the ringing is right on cue. Overall, this is an outstanding production of a truly funny farce. It plays through Nov. 22. Box office: 203-270-9144.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]