Walk, run, skateboard or ski to Reston Community Players’ production of Lend Me a Tenor. These guys are so good that I expect they’ll be getting an invite to New York or London.
In Ken Ludwig’s comedy of mistaken identities and entendres, it is 1934 and the manager of the Cleveland Opera Company, Saunders (Buz Gibson), has imported Italian star Tito Merelli (Kevin Gunn) to sing Otello for a fundraiser. Saunders’ assistant, Max (Ryan Manning), an opera singer wannabe himself, is put in charge of keeping Tito away from the wine and the women until curtain time. Max’s girlfriend and Saunders’ daughter, Maggie (Evie Korovesis), hoping to meet and greet her opera idol, stows herself in Tito’s hotel bedroom and sets off the mayhem. Tito’s wife, Maria (Jennifer Lambert), finds Maggie in the bedroom closet, suspects an affair, and storms out leaving a goodbye note for her husband. Tito, unwell after his train ride to Cleveland, mixes too many sleeping pills with glasses of wine and falls asleep on the bed, dead to the world and apparently really dead to Saunders and Max, who mistake the goodbye-husband note for Tito’s suicide note.
What to do? The show must go on! Max impersonates Tito, disguising himself with the help of Otello’s blackface makeup. Of course Tito wakes up and joins in the confusion. The gentlemen are continuously beset by the ladies, who have very funny lines and setups. They constantly swirl around the men either like hummingbirds or angry birds.
Evie Korovesis as Maggie plays the ingénue role energetically. She’s the firecracker that starts the party, playing with the ‘f word’/ – fling – in Maggie’s first scenes with boyfriend Max.
Jennifer Lambert, as Tito’s Italian wife who ‘don’t speaka da English too good,’ has a fun run with the ‘p word.’ What is that thing that men have, that grows bigger when they fall for a woman? It starts with p … oh yes, passion! But farce and slapstick are above all funny motions, and Lambert’s Maria has a great moment when fighting with Tito in the bedroom. I’ll only say this, it has something to do with the pillow she’s holding while Tito avoids his conjugal duties.
But the iconic character – the source of a line that immediately tells me this is Lend Me a Tenor — is Julia (Marianne Meyers), the chairwoman of the Cleveland Opera Board. “How do I look?” she asks Saunders as she flounces into the room, sporting a silver sequined gown and a matching tiara. “Like the Chrysler building,” he dryly says – thus making New York’s art deco skyscraper and Tenor united forevermore. Meyers does Margaret Dumont, of Marx Brothers fame, proud. Maybe Buz Gibson’s Saunders gets to say the funny, but Marianne Meyers’ Julia gets to be the funny.
Ashleigh de la Torre Muldoon is very good as the opera diva Diana, a blonde ladder-climber showing up and hoping to further her career by appearing with the great opera singer Tito, either in bed or on stage.
Saunders, the cynical opera manager played by Buz Gibson, holds the fort. With all the craziness around him, he is the sane straight man that the other comedians bounce off of.
Kevin Gunn’s Tito is a wonderful mix of bravura and cluelessness. Behind every door slam is the perplexed Tito, who in every scene doesn’t know about the enlightening foregoing events.
Tenor’s male lead, Max, is engagingly and nebbishly played by Ryan Manning. By himself he is funny and when he appears as the counterfeit Otello he is laugh out loud silly looking, but he is especially good in the dialog scenes for two, whether it be with Saunders or Tito or Maggie or Diana. He’s a team player, working with and responding to the other actors.
One more character to applaud is the bellhop, played by Joey Wilson. His time on stage is shorter than the others, but he usually manages to steal the scenes he’s in. He has great timing and delivery.
Director Sam Nystrom keeps the action flying smoothly in this circus of flings and zings.
Set Designers, Bea and Jerry Morse, constructed a snappy and definitive setting. The left side of the stage is the hotel suite’s living room, done in shades of gold, while the right side of the stage is the bedroom, done in lovely blue and violet. The color difference helps to suggest that these walled rooms and what goes on in them are closed boxes. (What goes on in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom.) My only quibble is with the Gibson girl posters on the backdrop wall. They don’t seem right for the art deco time and theme.
Let’s have a shout out for Costume Designer Irene Molnar and makeup/hair stylist Sue Pinkman. Of course all the ladies’ dresses are beautiful, but Julia’s trademark Chrysler building dress is especially worthy of an award. And don’t forget the fur coat; they seem to be making a retro comeback. But the real Tony award winner is the Otello ensemble. It is so funny, you have to see it. When Max comes out looking like a blackface Urkel – is that oxymoronic? – you can’t help but smile. Part of the look is the wig – he’s wearing this brown thing that looks like a cross between Moe’s (Three Stooges) hair and Davy Crockett’s cap.
Like I said, go. See it. It is as good as the 2010 Broadway production done by Stanley Tucci with Tony Shalhoub.
Running Time: Approximately 130 minutes with one intermission.
Lend Me a Tenor plays through February 4, 2012, at the Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road in Reston, VA. For tickets, call (703) 476-4500, or purchase them online.