Reviewed by Craig Schneider
Lend me your ears, this play, production and Cast is first rate and should be seen now! “Lend Me A Tenor” is an aerobic door slamming, pratfalling, frisky romp with mistaken identities and sexy ladies in a stylish hotel suite. This Comedy/Farce offered me a welcome break from reviewing the recent theatre trend of “Memory Plays”, where nothing much happens on the stage except people talking and reflecting on what happened in the past.
It’s impossible to summarize the story line in a few sentences: but to start it’s 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio and famous Italian opera tenor the great Tito Merelli is going to be performing the role of Otello, the Spanish Moor in Verdi’s Opera of the same name, to a sold out audience in a few hours. Except he can’t. His wife has left him in a jealous rage because of his skirt chasing antics. To calm him down, his handler Max slips “Il Stupendo” a tranquilizer, that Morelli tops off later with Chianti and his heart medicine. There is a reason there are those warnings on medicine bottles. Max and the heartless show promoter Henry, later discover the Tenor’s body and believe he has committed suicide. Henry comes up with plan to save his career so he won’t have to cancel the show and refund their money. Max sings a little, having received a lesson from Morelli, and will step into the role of Otello. With the heavy makeup, beard and costume, the audience will never know that Tito is dead. What could go wrong, right?
Michael Hipwell is perfect as the hapless Max, who bravely tries to capture the heart of his long time fiancee. Chris Bucci is Morelli, of course, and a comic genius in the scene where he tries to kill himself with non-lethal weapons. Tenors can be a little bit portly, so it was a great pleasure for the audience to see that Michael and Chris in costume did look alike. And they can really sing. Jessie Thorpe expertly played the role of “Maggie” who’s father is Henry Saunders. She’s bored with her almost fiancee Max and is one of three women in the play who are all aflutter over Morelli. Ray Steinbacher is brilliant as the scheming Henry. Like the “Max Bialystock” character from “The Producers”, Ray screams and cajoles. You love to hate him.
Just when you think things are slowing down, they don’t, as another crazy character is introduced to amp up the energy. Aimee Kast is terrific as the loving but jealous Italian wife. She’s a Hellcat with her yelling and clawing and rocks a big Italian hairdo. J. D. Mizikowski is a scene stealer as the Bellhop who can’t stop barging in. Jacilyn Snyder plays the seductress “Diana”, a Cleveland soprano who wants to sleep her way to singing at the Met. Sue Hanson also sweeps in as “Julia” the chairwoman of the Opera Guild and also intent on pursuing a fling with the Opera star.
Much of the credit has to go to the Director David W. Mitchell for creating the perfect comedy storm. The set was deco elegant and the 1930’s costumes by Vi Steinbacher and KC McCloskey were spot on. The stage was a little small for two separate rooms, but the blocking was great and the slapstick energy and movements were crisp. You could tell they were well rehearsed and having a good time themselves. Good job by Jeanne Santos with the Wigs and Tom Kiser with the Lights and Opera music.
Future performances are this Friday, Saturday, Sunday the 5th, 6th and 7th and the following Friday, Saturday, Sunday the 12th, 13th and 14th. Please call 814 450-8553 for reservations or go online to www.allanact.net to get your seats now!