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Ken Ludwig’s "Lend Me a Tenor" at The Music Box

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Ken Ludwig’s
Lend Me a Tenor
(Lend Me a Tenor Website)

Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shalhoub, Justin Bartha

Brooke Adams, Mary Catherine Garrison,
Jennifer Laura Thompson, Jay Klaitz
Jan Maxwell

Directed by Stanley Tucci

The Music Box
239 West 45th Street
A Shubert Organization Theatre

Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Wig & Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Casting: MelCap/David Caparelliotis
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Production Stage Manager: David O’Brien
Press Representatives: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Management:
Juniper Street Productions/Kevin Broomell
General Management: STP/David Turner
Executive Producer: Amanda Watkins

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 21, 2010

Watching Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor, Feydeau, Moliere, and 50’s TV comic sitcoms came to mind, as characters in a 1934 Cleveland hotel suite leap and lung though doors, onto furniture, and onto each other. There’s even a star-struck bellhop amidst the mayhem, that includes two tenors, one infamous and one incognito, with both in blackface, singing arias from Otello. The great comic actor, Stanley Tucci, directs this energized extravaganza, and he holds his own amongst les crèmes de la crème of farceurs. Anthony LaPaglia is Tito Merelli, a bombastic, womanizing, carousing tenor, brought into Cleveland by Saunders (Tony Shalhoub), impresario for the local opera house. Saunders and Gala Chair, Julia (Brooke Adams) know about Merelli’s reputation for reveling, at the cost of rehearsals. Max (Justin Bartha), Saunders’ assistant, is assigned to “watch” Merelli, with no breaks, so he eats, naps, applies makeup, and dons his fancy costume. Cleveland’s opera patrons are in anxious anticipation, and a celebratory dinner is waiting as well.

Max, who has memorized the entire Otello libretto, ends up donning Merelli’s second look-alike Otello costume and blackface, after various women interrupt the proceedings with varying results. Merelli’s wife, Maria (Jan Maxwell), a zealous, exacting shopaholic, with delightful Italian gestures, makes use of most of the doors, as does Diana (Jennifer Laura Thompson), a hot soprano on the loose. Max’ girlfriend, Maggie (Mary Catherine Garrison), who’s obsessed with Merelli, drives Max to do his biggest act, his impassioned tenor solo, that cons Maggie into his arms. The entertaining Jay Klaitz, as the Bellhop, appears and disappears, as farcical bellhops do, and the stage is set for an animated Broadway matinee. Justin Bartha, as Max, has passable vocal talent for the role, since he’s in pursuit of operatic fame, not a recognized tenor like Merelli. Even though Max and Merelli have contrasting physiques and voices, their frolicsome, look-alike antics were wildly engaging.

Tony Shalhoub, as Saunders, was high strung and uptight, but most impresarios are just that, as stress goes with the job. His reactions to the unfolding melee were campy and droll. Anthony LaPaglia performed his outsized role with persuasive timing, creating huge laugh lines, moment by moment. His facial gestures were priceless. Jan Maxwell was compelling as Maria, and Jennifer Laura Thompson slithered about as a ludicrous diva. John Lee Beatty’s set was decorated with 30’s detailed décor and inside-outside doors and closets that resembled a maze. Martin Pakledinaz’ Otello costumes were sparkling with gold, while Saunders’ topcoat was elegant, and Diana’s dress was slinky. Kenneth Posner and Peter Hylenski teamed for warm lighting and sound, and Paul Huntley’s Otello wigs were literally over-the-top. Kudos to Ken Ludwig, and kudos to Stanley Tucci for such sharp direction.

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