Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Lend Me A Tenor"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Jim Wagner

"Lend Me A Tenor"

Reviewed by Jim Wagner

The Newton Country Players have opened their new season on a new stage with laughter--lots of it!--in a delightful production of the crowd-pleasing farce, LEND ME A TENOR. The show is running on weekends through November 20 in the Yamawaki Art and Cultural Center at Lasell College in Newton. The theater is easy to find, quite near the Riverside T Station.

Director Bill Doscher demonstrates why he is in demand by Boston-area theatre companies with his deft casting and sharp pacing of this rapid-fire comedy written by Ken Ludwig. Doscher keeps the laughs going for two hours by blending eight skillful actors, two rooms, six doors, a bed, a couch, mixed identities, costume changes, romance, domestic battles--and a little music by Verdi.

The story line is that an opera company in 1930s Cleveland hires, then loses, then replaces, then finds again, a famous Italian tenor known as "Il Stupendo." All of that confusion, and much more, fills an afternoon and evening in a hotel suite. And if you should miss some of the action, the whole play is reprised in a 90-second finale!

Stephen Russo plays the imported tenor, Tito Merelli, with both confidence and bewilderment. Even an international idol can be stunned by the events in Cleveland. Russo has the swagger, the comic accent, and the hilarious reactions to advance the show's many surprises. And he sings very well.

Another fine tenor, Rich Italiano, is Max, the underestimated factotum who suddenly has greatness thrust upon him. Italiano is especially funny and appealing as a shy dullard--think of Clark Kent with a voice. His scenes with Russo, culminating in a duet, are a special pleasure to see and hear.

Dana Ross is Maggie, more-or-less engaged to Max but all-out infatuated with Tito and "the voice." It takes Maggie quite some time to sort this out. Maggie is portrayed with sweetness and passion, romance and lust, plus comic timing. A recent graduate of Boston College, Ross is a talented addition to area stages.

Brian DeLaney is Saunders, Maggie's father and the opera company's general manager. When Saunders is faced with crises DeLaney shifts smoothly from panic to resourcefulness to outright scheming. He keeps the plot(s) churning, sometimes unwittingly, and delivers some of the show's best lines. As Mrs. Merelli, Maria Wardwell has the fun of raging onstage. Her loud arguments with Tito, complete with insults and gestures, are uproarious. But when someone needs to straighten things out at the end, Wardwell has the commanding presence and voice to get everybody's attention.

That brings us to "the other woman," Diana, the company's leading soprano and manhunter. Candy Goff, a fine comedienne, has the look and leer the role requires, whether dressed in evening gown or a towel. The scene in which Goff and Russo misstep their way through layers of misunderstanding is the funniest in the show.

Edith Springer is a show unto herself as Julia, the high society leader of the opera guild. Stylish and elegant, Springer excels in striking poses, making pronouncements, and reacting archly. Ah, but then Julia misinterprets Tito's intentions...

Dan Gomez, a young actor recently arrived in Boston from Seattle, plays the knowing Bellhop with flair and humor. Yet another tenor, he pops in and out of the suite determined to meet Tito Merelli. Gomez draws some of the biggest laughs while idolizing "Il Stupendo."

The two-room set for LEND ME A TENOR, designed by Doug Cooper assisted by Kali Patterson, cleverly provides space on a small stage for all the fast-paced action. The suite is attractive for the period, and sturdy enough for many slamming doors. Tom Donaghey led 20 volunteers in constructing the set.

Costume design is by David Alger. All the clothing works for the play. Alger must have enjoyed assembling dresses with furs for Diana and Maria, the ill-fitting sportcoat for awkward Max, opera gowns for the ladies, Tito's Italian suit, Saunders' white tie and tails, and the Otello costume for Verdi's "Don Carlo."

LEND ME A TENOR is produced for the Newton Country Players by Ilene Klaver and Julie Wiseman. Stephanie Schmidt is the stage manager. Lighting is by Kenny Meehan, sound by John Redue, and makeup by Catherine Buntaine.

[Now that the company has moved to the Lasell College campus, NCP will begin working with students and faculty on theater-related projects. The stage and equipment at the Yamawaki Center are new, the auditorium has good acoustics, and the padded seats are comfortable. It is a marked improvement over NCP's previous venue at the Windsor Club. For more information, or to order tickets, go to the website:]

"Lend Me A Tenor" (5 - 20 November)
Yamawaki Art and Cultural Center, Lasell College, 47 Myrtle Avenue, NEWTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide