Glendale Centre Theatre follows this past summer’s staging of Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies with the master playwright’s 1986 smash Lend Me A Tenor, a revival that hits all the right comedic notes as performed by an expert cast under James Castle Stevens’ snappy direction.
With its intricate plot constructed with razor-sharp precision, double entendres galore, oodles of physical comedy shtick, several cases of mistaken identity, and plenty of doors to slam and hide behind, Lend Me A Tenor offers an abundance of laughs from its outrageous start to its farcical ballet of a bonus ending.
Richard Large makes his 22nd GCT appearance as Cleveland Grand Opera general manager Henry Saunders, who along with his long-suffering assistant Max (Michael Perl) is awaiting the arrival of opera superstar Tito Merelli (John McCool Bowers), aka “Il Stupendo,” to sing the title role in tonight’s performance of Verdi’s Otello.
Perhaps even more excited about Tito’s arrival is Max’s girlfriend Maggie (Thandi Tolmay), who confesses to Max her heretofore unspoken desire to have a pre-marital “fling” with a man whose kiss will make her hear bells, a man like Tito to be more precise.
Max, meanwhile, harbors a wish of his own, to take Il Stupendo’s place centerstage and sing those Verdi arias himself, though as Saunders points out to him, such an appearance would likely lead to old women being “trampled to death in the stampede up the aisles” while exiting the opera house in droves.
Fortunately for Cleveland opera lovers, Tito does at last arrive, accompanied by his redheaded battleaxe of an Italian wife Maria (Melissa Virgo), ever watchful for female Merelli fans who’d like nothing better than to “fling” with her hubby, women like Maggie, or like tonight’s Desdemona, Cleveland Grand Opera soprano diva Diana (Teena Pugliese), who’s got quite a thing for tenors (and baritones and basses).
Maria’s discovery of a starstruck Maggie hiding in Tito’s closet is all the hot-blooded Italiana needs to pack her bags and, at long last, leave her philandering spouse for good, but not before scribbling down a “Caro John” letter and leaving it on Tito’s bed.
With Il Stupendo clearly in need of a pre-performance nap, Max takes it upon himself to spike the tenor’s wine with a sleeping pill or two, unaware that Tito has already taken a couple Phenobarbitals himself, and before you know it, Signor Merelli lies passed out next to his wife’s farewell missive.
And then, in an outrageously funny twist, Max discovers Tito unconscious and, taking Maria’s ambiguously written as Merelli’s “Goodbye Cruel World” suicide note, dons one of Tito’s Otello costumes, the better to fool tonight’s audience into believing that mild-mannered Max is none other than Tito Merelli in the flesh.
As for Lend Me A Tenor’s suprise end-of-act-one blackout, could there be a more inspired set-up for post-intermission mayhem? I let you see and decide for yourself.
Leading Ladies director Stevens is back in fine form for Lend Me A Tenor, making smart use of Glendale Centre Theatre’s surround-stage and inspiring one terrific performance after another beginning with the handsome and charming Perl unleashing his inner nerd as Max and letting loose his Italian lothario as Il Stupendo 2.0.
Bowers matches Perl every step of the way as the Italian divo to end all Italian divi, with expert support from an all-around fabulous featured cast.
Large gets multiple laughs as the increasingly harried Henry Saunders, Tolmay is a girl-next-door delight as Maggie, and Pugliese makes for one sexy comedic treat as Diana.
Virgo is-a quite-a stupenda as Maria, a delicious Dynell Leigh once again proves herself GCT’s go-to grande dame as Cleveland Opera Guild maven Julia, and Todd Andrew Ball sparkles in his Bellhop cameo.
Lend Me A Tenor’s excellent in-the-round set design provides a different perspective of the play’s Cleveland hotel suite depending on where you sit rather than the side-by-side view you’d get in a proscenium design, which I for one find quite nifty indeed.
Costume designer Angela Wood once again offers GCT audiences one splendid outfit after another, with special mention due Leigh’s “Chrysler Building” tiara-and-gown ensemble. Lighting is first-rate and so is Alex Mackyol’s sound design.
Paul Reid is stage manager. Nathan Milisavljevich is master carpenter.
Musicals may make up the bulk of Glendale Centre Theatre productions, but their straight plays are often every bit as noteworthy as their song-and-dance hits. Like Heaven Can Wait, Squabbles, and See How They Run before it, Lend Me A Tenor can now be added to GCT’s decades-long list of comedy gems.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
January 9, 2015