Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Expert Cast Sparks Delightful Paper Mill Lend Me a Tenor
Also see Bob's review of Carnaval
The setting is a luxurious hotel suite in 1934 Cleveland, Ohio. Renowned Italian opera singer Tito Merelli (known in the opera world as "Il Stupendo") has been engaged to perform in the Cleveland Grand Opera gala performance of Verdi's Otello. Anxiously awaiting Merelli's overdue arrival is Saunders, the Opera's General Manager, his harassed assistant Max, and the starstruck Maggie, who is Saunders' daughter and Max's girlfriend.
As a result of a number of clever farcical plot elements set into play upon the arrival of Merelli accompanied by his jealous wife Maria, Saunders and Max are convinced that the sleeping, heavily sedated Merelli has committed suicide. In order to save the opera gala, they hatch a plot for Max (who is an amateur tenor) to don Merelli's costume and (blackface) make-up in order to impersonate Merelli and perform at the gala in his place.
When the only temporarily indisposed Merelli awakes, He dons his make-up and duplicate costume, igniting a hilarious series of farcical mistaken identity twists and turns which are the basis for the delightfully amusing second act.
From the start, Ken Ludwig entertains and amuses us with a panoply of outlandish comic characters indulging in foolish, self-indulgent, pompous and overbearing behaviors. The comic performances are outstanding throughout as each actor manages to maximize his/her spotlight turns while preserving the integrated ensemble performance which is crucial to the integrity of the production.
David Josefsberg brings a heightened intensity to the desperate efforts of the beleaguered Max, which appropriately shifts the central plot and comedic focus of Tenor to him. John Treacy Egan brings a warmth and openheartedness to his particularly likeable Merelli without scarifying any of the humor of a man with too large an appetite for both food and women. Both in their farcical and musical interplay, Josefsberg and Egan are a show stopping delight. Michael Kostroff brings gruff energy and veteran comedic chops to the overbearing and harassing Saunders. Mark Price provides a winning youthful brightness for his delightful Bellhop.
With every gesture, facial expression and perfectly accented (in both senses of that word) line spoken, Judy Blazer is a comic delight as Merelli's Maria. Jill Paice charms in the comedic ingénue role of Maggie. Donna English is delightfully and aggressively lovely as Diana, the ambitious, hot-to-trot with Merelli soprano. Nancy Johnston drolly portrays the older, but even less mature, Julia, Chairman of the Opera Guild.
Director Don Stephenson keeps everything moving at an appropriately frenetic pace, swinging for the fences with every line and situation. His production is sharp and meticulously timed. The large, airy, rather opulent, eminently playable set by John Lee Beatty appears to be a ringer for his design for the successful 2010 Broadway revival.
The swift, ninety-second redux of the play that ends every Tenor production continues to fully delight its audiences. And why not? For Paper Mill's Lend Me a Tenor is low farce at its highest level.
Lend Me a Tenor continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday & Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 7 pm; Matinees: Thursday, Saturday & Sunday 1:30 pm) through March 10, 2013 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 3 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.
Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig; directed by Don Stephenson