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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Lend Me A Tenor at ArtsWest

A farce that might indeed have served well as a mid-thirties Marx Brothers vehicle, Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig may not be a great play, but in ArtsWest's spunky and spirited production it sure is a barrel of fun.

Set in 1934, Lend Me A Tenor is the zany saga of a Cleveland Opera Company dealing with famed but problematic Italian tenor Tito, who is guest starring in their production of the opera Othello. Opera assistant Max finds his hands full with the charming but high maintenance star, his wife, and assorted opera company cast and staff members. Misunderstandings pile upon each other, with the result being that Max ends up going on and starring - to great acclaim - in Tito's role, while Tito, who is falsely believed to have killed himself, shows up at the theatre and is assumed to be a mad impostor. The action just gets wilder and wackier from there, culminating in a raucously happy ending for all concerned.

Director Scot C. Anderson skillfully stages the action with a choreographic flair, as it is split between two rooms in a hotel suite, and sees to it that his cast maintains a galloping but never frenetic pace, which brings the show in at under two hours including intermission. Anderson adroitly meshes a cast with obviously varying experience into a cohesive ensemble.

Nick Stewart as Max has an amiable air and unforced charm as the opera assistant thrust not altogether unwillingly into the spotlight, and Beth Cooper as Maggie, the girl you know he's gonna get, makes her character an enticing blend of wide-eyed ingénue with a dash of a young Imogene Coca lurking around the edges. Alan Wilke is brashly engaging as Tito, even if his Italian accent seems to drift toward Glocca Morra at times, and Lisa Viertel is a stitch as his intensely jealous and passionate wife.

Trish LaGrua brings great panache and wry humor to her role as Tito's over-sexed leading lady Diana, while Gretchen Douma seems to be channeling the late, great Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont as opera patroness Julia. As the overwhelmed producer Saunders, John Wray overcame some line stumbles during the reviewed performance to create an engagingly exasperated character. Only Matt Wray as a celebrity-worshipping bellhop is a bit of a cipher, in a role that a more experienced player could have carved into a comic gem.

An art deco styled, Technicolor-hued scenic design replete with many doors to slam is the excellent work of Melissa Hamasaki. Andrew Duff's lighting design is rather unremarkable, and Julia Trimarco's costume design seems inconsistent and at times unfinished.

Lend Me A Tenor is, overall, the most accomplished production I've yet seen at the now five year-old ArtsWest Company. It is warmhearted, light entertainment that audiences will very likely devour with great gusto.

Lend Me A Tenor runs through Sept 27, 2003, at ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave SW, in West Seattle. For further information visit their web site at www.artswest.org.




- David-Edward Hughes



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