Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Newport Playhouse's latest show is the colorful madcap farce, "Lend Me a Tenor". Set in September, 1934 in Cleveland, famous tenor, Tito Morelli is to perform Otello at the Grand Opera Company. Through a series of mishaps, double entendres and mistaken identities, the eight performers deliver the goods to their appreciative audience.
Veteran director, Bucky Walsh does double duty in this show not only directing it but playing the large role of the general manager of the opera, Saunders. The character is overbearing and blustering and Bucky makes him a terror to behold. He runs his assistant ragged, controls his daughter's life and orders the others around. Bucky makes his lines and especially his expletives very funny, delivering his usual strong performance to the crowd. The gorgeous unit set was built by Vinny Micucci and decorated by Jason Heywood, making it look like a 1930's hotel suite.
The young performers in this show do wonderful work, too. Nishan Lawton as Max is outstanding in this nerd becomes star role. His tenor voice soars in the operatic scenes and his revelation to his beloved at the end is fantastic. Nishan wears black hornrimmed glasses and walks hunched over as the nerd but is transformed into the heroic mode when he dons his Otello costume. Nishan's finally standing up to Saunders is one of the highlights of the show. A wonderful debut on the mainstage. His girlfriend, Maggie is played by 22 year old Jessica Gardner. She is a beautiful blonde with long legs which she uses to wrap around Max who she thinks is Tito. The slamming of doors at the right moments and hiding in closet, bathroom and all over the hotel is done quite a bit by Jessica and the whole cast. She plays the infatuated ingenue to the hilt in her debut at the Playhouse.
Michael Pavia plays Tito Morelli with an Italian accent and a strong stage presence. At six foot three, he is an imposing figure on stage. Michael has many funny moments especially the double entendres and the mixed up happenings with he and Max in the same outfits wooing different girls at the same time. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Sandra Nicastro as Tito's jealous wife, Maria. The husband and wife are constantly arguing and she threatens to make him a soprano if he doesn't stop fooling around with other women. Sandra commands the stage with her perfect Italian accent and gestures. She controls the others with her physicality and receives much laughter onstage during her scenes and at the end of the show, too.
The three remaining cast members show off their talent in their roles. Brian Lamothe is the lisping, bellhop who wants Tito's autograph while he runs into doors and is chased around the room by other characters. His voice reminds you of a cartoon voice and is very funny to listen to. Sex crazed soprano, Diana is played by veteran actress, Pat Toppa. She makes the most of this trampy role, looking radiant while doing it. The fornicating scene with Tito is a hoot with her going down on him. The wealthy doweager, Julia is played by Jean DeGrooth who wears a bright shimmering, silver dress which looks like the Chyrsler building. She plays this older woman well and she also tries to seduce Tito by laying back on the sofa leading to many laughs. The recap scene is done beautifully and the whole cast should be commended for a job very well done.