Mid-Shore Arts: Plenty of Laughs in “Lend Me a Tenor”

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If you’re in the mood for a good belly laugh, we recommend a trip to Oxford Community Center to see the Tred Avon Players’ production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” directed by Zack Schlag.

The play, written in 1986 by Ken Ludwig, first appeared in a summer theater production in New Hampshire. The British director David Gilmore read it and took it to the London stage, where it ran for ten months. Its Broadway run began in 1989 and it ran for 476 performance, picking up three Tonys and four Drama Desk awards. Philip Bosso won both as best actor in the role of Sanders, and Jerry Zaka won both for best director. The play has also been adapted as a musical, which played in London in 2011.

“Lend Me a Tenor” is set in Cleveland in 1934. As the curtain opens, the local opera house awaits a performance of Verdi’s “Otello” by the most celebrated Italian opera star of the time – Tito Merelli, whose libido is as big as his voice. But as the curtain opens, Merelli still hasn’t arrived in town – and Henry Saunders, the opera manager, is in a panic. He’s got a sold-out house, but with no star, there’s no show.

Waiting with Saunders in the hotel suite reserved for the visiting tenor are his daughter Maggie, an opera fan who worships Merelli, and his much-put-upon assistant Max. Mild-mannered Max is himself an amateur tenor, and he is in love with Maggie, who has so far done little to reward his devotion.

As Saunders becomes more and more frantic about the possibility of having to cancel the production, Max suggests he might fill in. He’s learned the role and would be glad to help out. But Saunders shoots the idea down with a full load of sarcasm. Most of the audience will demand an instant refund, and those who stay for the show will want to kill him after hearing Max.

At last Merelli arrives, and it looks as if everything is back on track. But the tenor declares he will skip the dress rehearsal – he ate too much on the train and needs to rest. Merelli’s hot-tempered wife Maria complains that he ate too much because of a shapely waitress on the train and that he won’t take the sleeping pills his doctor prescribed. Meanwhile, everybody in town – Maggie, the Chairwoman of the Opera Guild, the seductive soprano cast as Desdemona in the opera, even the hotel bellhop – wants to meet the famous singer. And at this point, everyone’s plans collide and hilarity ensues – and to find out more, you’ll just have to see the play.

Jared Koenig makes his Tred Avon debut in the role of Max. He’s a nice fit for the part, which runs a gamut from being the long-suffering target of his boss’s sarcasm and anger to outright slapstick, especially in the second act. It’s not an easy part, and he handles it convincingly.

Craig Brittingham, who has numerous acting credits on the lower shore, is thoroughly amusing as the blustering Saunders. Whether he’s blowing his top at Max’s efforts to corral the wayward tenor or breaking down in sobs as he anticipates the failure of the opera, Brittingham is at the focus of almost every scene he’s in, and he doesn’t disappoint. Excellent job.

Jackie Boyer takes the role of Maggie, and she’s charming as the young opera lover who wants to get closer to her idol Merelli. This is another role that requires a wide emotional range, and she makes the character believable – naive one moment then sexy and sophisticated the next.

Nick Grande, a TAP veteran, is well cast as Merelli, deploying an broad Italian accent and extravagant style to convey the character of the temperamental tenor. It’s a role that invites chewing the scenery, and Grande plays it to great comic effect. He’s especially entertaining in the second half, when he finds himself the target of two star-struck fans. A fine job in a central role – bravo!

Alison Lynch, a TAP regular, gets a plum role as Merelli’s hot-tempered and jealous wife Maria. She makes the part amusing without becoming too much of a caricature – not an easy job.

The other roles are also well cast. Patrick Jurena plays the wisecracking bellhop with just the right edge. Ashley Chroniger is appropriately sexy as Diana, the voluptuous soprano. And Melisa Barcomb-Doyle projects the right blend of snobbery and air-headedness as Julia, the head of the opera guild.

The set, which shows two rooms of the hotel suite at once, was designed by Lawrie Jessup. It’s functional and attractive – and the Murphy bed, perhaps the most comical piece of furniture ever invented, nearly steals the show. Needless to say, the comic potential of the bed is thoroughly utilized in the script. Shakespeare would have loved a murphy bed! There are also five doors – to hallways, closet, bathroom, etc. – each of which is slammed, knocked up, as the characters race in and out and hide from each other.

The costumes, from the women’s attractive formal gowns to the stage costume for Otello, are first-rate. Kudos to the costume crew!

The play as a whole is classic risque farce, built on elements that have been comic staples for centuries – it may be the best opera spoof since the Marx brothers’ “A Night at the Opera.” You don’t have to be an opera fan to enjoy it, though; the music is minimal – just a few snatches of song – and is incidental to the comedy. There were a couple of points where the pace might have been picked up in the performance we saw, but on the whole there’s little to criticize – and a lot to laugh at.

“Lend Me a Tenor” continues this weekend, with shows at 7:30 Friday and Saturday and a matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission, with discounts for students and TAP members.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Carol Schroeder says:

    Saw this year’s ago (25?) at the Kennedy Center and loved it and never forgotten it. The perfect timing of the door slams was wonderful and unique as a comedy ploy. Recommend going just for the fun of it!

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