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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Lend Me a Tenor


Tony Braithwaite and Michael Doherty
Photo by Bill D'Agostino
Lend Me a Tenor is one of those comedies where you have to accept the utter ridiculousness of the premise in order for the show to work at all. For instance, when uptight opera company boss Saunders and his meek assistant Max find the star tenor Tito Merelli out cold in his hotel bed a few hours before show time, they assume that he's dead. They don't bother to take Tito's pulse, or to check whether he's breathing (which anyone in the audience can tell by the way his chest rises and falls as he lies in bed). If they did any of that, the play would be over. Instead, they assume he's dead—and they hatch a scheme for Max, an amateur singer, to take Tito's place, in disguise, for a high-profile premiere of Verdi's Otello. Once the real Tito wakes up, of course, the farcical complications begin.

Fortunately, director Bud Martin's production of Lend Me a Tenor at Act II Playhouse makes it all easy to accept. In part that's because of the fast pace which makes even the most ludicrous of complications go down easily. But what makes this production stand out is the chemistry between the actors, especially Jeffrey Coon as the star, Michael Doherty as the would-be star, and Tony Braithwaite as the over-anxious producer. The contrast between Coon's larger-than-life gusto and Doherty's clean-cut timidity gives their scenes together a highly enjoyable energy. Braithwaite, wearing a pencil-thin mustache which looks penciled on, is nicely volatile as a manager who can't keep anything under control. There are committed performances from Howie Brown as a starstruck bellhop, Tracie Higgins as a jealous wife, Mariel Rosati as a sexy soprano, and Linda Friday as a befuddled benefactor. Only Eileen Cella, as Max's love interest, seems a bit too tentative to make the comedy work ideally.

Ludwig's roundelay of mistaken identities, double entendres and slammed doors can get formulaic at times, and his dialogue isn't long on wit—its best moments are setups for more slapstick—but it's performed with such exuberance and skill that you won't mind. It's all played out on Dick Durossette's handsome art deco hotel room set, which is sturdy enough to withstand dozens of door slams. You may see a few of the hard-working actors sweating, but you'll never see a wall shake.

Lend Me a Tenor runs through June 8, 2013, at Act II Playhouse, 56 East Butler Avenue, Ambler, Pennsylvania. Tickets are $27 - $33, with discounts available for students and groups, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 215-654-0200 or online at www.Act2.org.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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