A sensational cast performing under Art Manke’s inspired direction make McCoy Rigby Entertainment’s pitch-perfect revival of Ken Ludwig’s 1986 smash Lend Me A Tenor a crowd-pleaser if there ever was one, and the best possible reason to brave L.A. traffic for an evening of farce at its most fabulous at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts.
Double entendres galore, oodles of physical comedy shtick, several cases of mistaken identity, plenty of doors to slam and hide behind, and intricate, razor-sharp plotting add up to two hours of guaranteed laughs from the moment we first make the acquaintance of Cleveland Grand Opera general manager Henry Saunders (J. Paul Boehmer) and his long-suffering assistant Max (John Shartzer), the twosome awaiting the arrival of opera superstar Tito Merelli (Davis Gaines), 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 (Kelley Dorney), who wouldn’t mind a bit of pre-marital hanky-panky with a man whose kiss, unlike Max’s, will make her hear bells. Maggie’s boyfriend, meanwhile, harbors a wish of his own, to take Il Stupendo’s place centerstage and sing those Verdi arias himself.
Unfortunately for Max, Tito does at last arrive, accompanied by his raven-haired spitfire of an Italian wife Maria (Catherine LeFrere), ever watchful for female fans who’d fancy a fling with her marito, women like tonight’s Desdemona, soprano diva Diana (Leslie Stevens), 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 bid her philandering spouse addio, but not before scribbling down a farewell letter and leaving it on Tito’s bed.
Meanwhile, 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 of Phenobarbitals himself … and the rest I’ll leave it to you to discover.
No one directs farce with more flair than Manke, who adds trademark bits of physical comedy throughout while eliciting one delicious star turn after another from a cast of musical theater triple-threats strutting their straight-play stuff to match Broadway’s best.
Shartzer’s irresistible Max proves Gaines’s match, and then some, in a role that has him balancing three women in various states of voraciousness, scoring laughs galore in Moorish drag, and showing off some pretty darned gorgeous vocals of his own.
Boehmer’s mid-Atlantic-accented Saunders appears to have stepped right out of a 1930s movie classic, Dorney gives ingénue Maggie abundant spice and pluck, Colette Kilroy is simply too too divine as Cleveland Opera Guild grande dame Julia, LeFrere makes for the hottest firecracker out of Italy since Gina Lollobrigida, Skowron milks every one of Bellboy’s starstruck moments for all their worth, and Stevens turns luscious, leggy Diana into yet another revelatory gem.
Lend Me A Tenor looks molto stupendo thanks to scenic designer Tom Buderwitz’s elegant side-by-side hotel suites, Terry Hanrahan’s period-perfect props, and Jared A. Sayeg’s masterful lighting that subtly switches focus from one suite to the other and back. David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes are the epitome of 1930s elegance and style, and matched by Katie McCoy’s just-right hair and wig designs. Steven Cahill’s unobtrusive sound design is one of the best I’ve heard in a La Mirada straight play and his original music is an added treat.
Julie Haber is production stage manager. Michael Roman is technical director. Casting is by Julia Flores.
It’s been two long years since McCoy Rigby Entertainment has treated its audiences to an honest-to-goodness play, and as their current offering makes abundantly clear, when they do one, they do it right. Simply put, Broadway could not do Lend Me A Tenor better than it’s being done out La Mirada way.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
November 2, 2016
Photos: Michael Lamont