Welcome to the Cleveland Grand Opera Company's gala season opener of Otello, which is to be performed by world-famous tenor, Tito Merelli, in the hopes that this will put Cleveland on the operatic map. This is the premise of Ken Ludwig's "Lend Me a Tenor", the latest comedy at Ocean State Theatre Company. This madcap show is set in 1934 but Merelli is running late, unable to rehearse with the company, and through a hilarious series of mishaps is given a double dose of tranquilizers which mixed with the alcohol he's consumed, makes him pass out. Chaos ensues when Merelli's hot tempered wife, Maria mistakes Maggie, an autograph-seeker hidden in the closet for a secret lover, she leaves Tito, a "Dear John" letter. After Tito is found, Saunders, the hard-ass general manager and Maggie's father, is determined the show must go on and convinces his assistant, Max who is infatuated with Maggie, to impersonate the opera star. Max puts black face make-up on required for the role of Otello and his disguise succeeds admirably until something shocking happens. What follows is a chain reaction of mistaken identity, plot twists, double entendre, innuendos, and constant entrances and exits with slamming doors on a unit hotel suite set. Throw in Diana, the opera diva soprano and Julia, the chairman of the board of the opera company who both pursue Merelli as well as an opera loving bellhop to complete this topnotch 8 member cast. Director Kevin Pariseau does a marvelous job with this show creating sight gags and slapstick moments to create the necessary ingredients for this well written comic farce.
Kevin infuses his cast with high energy, obtaining topnotch performances from his hardworking cast. The gorgeous art deco set is by Amanda R. Hall while the multitude of beautiful, breath taking 1930's costumes are by Ryan J. Moller. Nick Gaswirth is fabulous as Max as he leads the company in merriment. With his clever dialogue, he makes Max go from meek and mild assistant to forceful opera singer when he imitates Tito. This is when he finally obtains the woman of his dreams. Nick has many clever bits shtick including running in and out of doors, comic double takes and being suave and debonair as Tito when he finally seduces Maggie. Bruce Sabath is terrific as Tito Merelli. He plays the part with a strong Italian accent, commanding the stage in his scenes. Both Bruce and Nick's singing voices are marvelously displayed in this show. Bruce has many funny moments including the double entendre scenes with Maggie and Diana as well as the mixed up happenings when he and Nick woo two different women on opposites sides of the stage.
The mean general manager, Saunders is excellently played by Alexander Cook. He captures the hard edge of the character but infuses him with many comic moments including the choking of Tito when he thinks he is dead and the rapid fire delivery with Nick about keeping an eye on Tito. Elizabeth Boyke, a gorgeous blonde plays the young virginal Maggie who wants to have a fling before she settles down. She gives this infatuated ingenue the backbone to stand up to her overbearing father when she thinks she is in love with Tito. After all the craziness around her, Maggie finally realizes she really loves Max. The love making scene between Max and Maggie as well as the one between Tito and Diana, garners the biggest laughter of the night. Tito's hot tempered Italian wife, Maria is played by Gerrianne Genga. She obtains laughs while running roughshod over the other characters.
The opera loving bellhop is wonderfully played by Kevin Broccolli. He has some of the best lines in this show, winning many laughs. Kevin is very energetic, has great facial expressions and excellent timing. One of the funniest scenes is when Saunders tries to strangle him. The opera soprano, Diana who plays Desdemona and has slept with all the men in Otello is wonderfully played by sultry and sexy, brunette bombshell, Rochelle Weinrauch who wears a red wig. Diana wants to join an opera company in New York and wants Tito to help her out but he misunderstands her, thinking her family are all prostitutes. The wealthy dowager, Julia is beautifully played by Maria Tavarozzi. She wears a gray wig and an hilarious silver gown which makes her look like the Chrysler Building. Maria has many funny lines as this snooty Grande Dame. Her funniest moment occurs when she pursues Tito in the bedroom. So for a fun filled farce, full of sexual escapades and hilarity, be sure to catch "Lend Me a Tenor" at Ocean State Theatre Company.