Sunday, March 29, 2015

Beck’s LEND ME A TENOR, farce at its funny best!

Some people go to the theatre to be educated.  Some go to see/listen to a pleasing combination of music and lyrics enclosed in a story.  Others go to just have a good time.  The latter group should run to their phones or computers right now and make reservations for LEND ME A TENOR.  Beck’s production is farce at its finest!

Ken Ludwig’s LEND ME A TENOR takes place in 1934 in a hotel suite in Cleveland.  The Cleveland Grand Opera Company is staging a celebratory event and has employed world famous Italian tenor, Tito Merelli, known as “Il Stupendo,” to sing Giuseppe Verdi’s OTELLO. 

Henry Saunders, the opera’s general manager, his much put-upon assistant, Max, and Maggie, Max’s girl friend and Saunders’ daughter, wait for his arrival in a plush art-déco suite.  Events unfold:  Morelli is late.  He arrives with his high strung and distraught wife who tags along to be sure that Morelli doesn’t get drunk and have affairs.  Morelli takes and is given too many tranquilizers in order to calm down, he passes out and is presumed to be dead.  Max agrees to substitute for Morelli. 

As Max admirably performs, Morelli awakes, puts on the same costume that Max is wearing, attempts to get into the opera house, has a confrontation with the police and returns to the hotel room about the same time as Max arrives back from his triumph.  The set doors keep opening and closing as a string of people, including a bellhop who wants to be discovered by Morelli, the opera’s soprano, who wants to have sex with him, and a member of the opera board, who is hero-struck, enter and exit. Two Otellos are charging around in costume, two women are running around in their undies, and chaos reigns.   (It’s SPAMALOT, and the skits of the CAROL BURNETT [TV] SHOW, and THE SHOW OF SHOWS relived.)

Farce, a light dramatic work with a highly improbable plot and exaggerated characters, is hard to both write and perform.   The writing must be so precise that the audience is led to laughter by the realism of the language imbedded in unbelievable situations.  The performances must be authentic, not beg for laughs, and the actions so broad that they require laughter.  Lots of door slamming, mistaken identifies, non-stop stage movements, and pure joy on the part of the audience are the keys to success. 

LEND ME A TENOR perfectly fits the bill.  It is one of modern America’s best farces.  It received nine Tony awards nominations, has appeared twice on Broadway, has been translated into sixteen languages and has produced in twenty-five countries.

The Beck production, under the adept direction of Scott Spence, is superb.  Laugh after laugh greets one improbable scene after another.  The cast has been melded into a unit that basically understands that, for farce to work, the actors must be totally real in their character development.  Their earnestness must come across.  These are “real” people caught in a series of ridiculous situations. 

Scott Esposito is wonderful as the put-upon Max.  His wide-eyed wonder look, his innocent demeanor and his great comic timing are enhanced by a marvelous tenor voice.  Yes, both Esposito and Matthew Wright do their own singing…no lip syncing here!  Bravo!

Matthew Wright is endearing as the drunken, hot-blooded Tito.  Wright’s singing voice is strong, his play with comedy excellent, and his consistency in character development admirable.  “Meraviglioso, come sempre!”

The pretty Emily Pucell Czarnota is charming as Maggie.  John Polk, as Saunders, is properly wrought. Leslie Andrews does a nice job of creating Diana, the company’s soprano who is hot for Tito, and Lissy Gulick is delightful as Julia, the chairperson of the Opera Guild.

Though Carla Petroski (Maria, Tito’s wife) and Zac Hudak (the bellhop) get lots of laughs, they both border on overdoing their roles, a cardinal “no-no” of good farce.  They could both step back a little and be more real and get even more laughs.  They need to be laughed with, not laughed at.

Welcome back Don McBride.  After a number of years of being away from Beck, McBride has designed a perfect art déco set consisting of two rooms, with numerous doors (that stand their ever continuing slamming).  The set is properly sophisticated and a perfect area for the farce staging.

If you like Ludwig’s writing you will shortly have a chance to experience it  again.  The Cleveland Play House will present Ludwig’s A COMEDY OF TENORS, the sequel to LEND ME A TENOR, as a reading as part of the New Ground Festival (May 9, 5-7 p.m.) and as the opening production of its 2015-2016 season.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  LEND ME A TENOR is one of the best modern day farces.  It gets a must-see production at Beck Center.  Farce is hard to do, but on the Beck stage, Scott Spence and his well-honed cast make it look exhausting, but easy.  Go, enjoy!

LEND ME A TENOR is scheduled to run through April 26, 2015 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to