Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Fantasticks"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Lend Me A Tenor"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show of Academy Players 54th season is "Lend Me a Tenor" a Tony Award winning farce by Ken Ludwig. Set in September, 1934, the show revolves around renowned tenor Tito Merelli, known to his fans as "Il Stupendo,'' who is scheduled to sing the lead in Otello, produced as a gala fundraiser for the Cleveland Opera Company. Unfortunately, even before the star leaves his hotel room, everything begins to unravel. Chaos ensues when Merelli's hot tempered wife, Maria has mistaken Maggie, an autograph-seeker hidden in his closet for a secret lover, leaves Tito a "Dear John" letter. The distraught Merelli accidentally is given a double dose of tranquilizers to calm him down and passes out. Saunders, the hard-ass company's General Manager and Maggie's father, is determined the show must go on for his own financial sake, so he asks his assistant Max who is infatuated with Maggie, to impersonate the opera star. Max puts on the black-face makeup required for the role of Otello, and his disguise succeeds admirably until Merelli wakes up, puts black-face on and heads for the stage. What follows is a chain-reaction of mistaken identity, plot twists, double entendres, innuendoes, and constant entrances and exits through the many doors on the unit hotel suite set. Throw in Diana, the opera diva soprano and Julia, the chairman of the board of the opera company who pursue Max and Tito when they are dressed up as Otello and a manic opera loving bellhop to complete this 8 member cast. Vincent Lupino does wonders with this show by putting some clever sight gags (shaking a bottle of champagne and kneeling in front of someone to suggest sexual acts) and slapstick moments including rubbery legs and throwing of the men on the beds and sofa to give the show the necessary ingredients for this comic romp.

Vinny is aided in his huge task by his crew. Stage manager Meryn Flynn and her assistant, Eileen Goretaya keep things running smoothly all night long. The excellent hotel suite set of the 1930's was designed by Neil Santoro so Vinny has to block his performers on both sides of the stage. Stage left is the living room section of the hotel suite with an archway to the kitchen, an hotel room door and a picture window. The doorway between the rooms leads into the bedroom section with a door to the corridor, a closet door and bathroom door. The wonderful costumes are by Heather Tingle with the two Otello costumes by Marcia Zammarelli. Julia's wig design is by Chuck Lafond, the lighting design is by Michael Hyde while the sound design is by Terrence Shea with props by Barbara Green. Light and sound board operator is Zach Searle. Michael Johnson who I directed in "Caught in the Net" in 2005, leads the troupe in merriment with his clever dialogue. He goes from meek and mild assistant using a higher sounding voice to forceful opera singer when he imitates Tito finally obtaining the woman of his dreams. Michael once again shows his comic prowess. playing the character wonderfully. Terrence whom I never saw before on stage is excellent as the swaggering Tito Merelli. He plays Merelli with an Italian accent and a strong stage presence. His and Michael's singing scenes soar with the power of their voices. They have many funny moments especially the double entendres and the mixed up happenings when they woo different girls at the same time.

The mean general manager, Saunders is played by Brian Lamothe. He captures the hard edge of this character but infuses him with many comic moments including his jumping on Tito's body in bed which is very funny. Brian handles comic roles very well having directed him in many murder mysteries for Whodunnit. Kate Arthur, a pretty brunette plays the young virginal, Maggie who wants to have a fling before she settles down. She gives this infatuated ingenue a backbone who stands up to her father while thinking she is in love with Tito. She says she wants his autograph and he signs a letter for her while she thinks he wants to make love. The scene where Max's black makeup rubs off on her face is a hoot. Maggie finally realizes she loves Max after all. (The love making scene builds to a climax with operatic music and a quick blackout with them on the sofa while Tito and Diana do it on the bed on the opposite side of the stage.) The hilarious hot tempered Italian wife is fantastically played by red headed Camille Terilli. When she finds Maggie hiding in the closet she calls her a putain, a slut in Italian. She runs roughshod over Tito and the other characters while chasing them around the sofa and out of the bedroom. Her gestures and actions are priceless and she receives much laughter with her antics. Camille and Terry play off one another perfectly like a real life married couple with their spats.

The opera loving Bellhop is beautifully played by 19 year old Matthew Royality-Lindman who I recently reviewed as Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol". He is a bundle of energy every time he enters the stage and uses his many facial expressions, timing his jokes which leads to much laughter. The opera soprano,Diana who plays Desdemona and has slept with all the men in the opera company is wonderfully played by blonde haired buxom, Kathleen Bebeau-Katic. Diana wants to join the opera company in New York and will seduce Tito to do it. After the performance with Max she returns to the hotel room asking Tito how she performed that night with Tito thinking she and her family are prostitutes. A clever bit occurs when Terry pretends to get excited with her seduction attempt by covering his crotch with a phone book. Kathy returns to the stage after a long absence as this sex crazed character. It's good to have her back onstage, having first seen her in 1981 in "Cinderella" at Rhode Island College. The wealthy dowager, Julia is well played by Karen Gail Kessler who wears a gray gown with a bright sequined overlay on it which makes her look like the Chrysler building. (To make her look older she wears a gray wig designed by Chuck Lafond who I directed in "Butterflies Are Free" in 2005.) Karen plays this older woman well and is hilarious as she also tries to seduce Tito by throwing him on the bed, leading to many laughs. Her portrayal of Julia will remind you of the Margaret Dumont character from the Marx Brothers movies of that time period. (I also directed Karen in "The Female Odd Couple" in 1994 which also starred Camille and Vinny.) So for a fun filled evening of sexual escapades and hilarity be sure to catch "Lend Me a Tenor" before time runs out. You will be glad you did.

"Lend Me A Tenor" (20 February - 1 March)
East Greenwich High School, 300 Avenger Drive, EAST GREENWICH RI
1 (401)885-6910

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide