Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Pg16-tenor2Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub in 'Lend Me a Tenor'  (Photo by Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK – At a performance of Ken Ludwig’s ‘‘Lend Me a Tenor" at the Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street, I heard something I hadn’t heard in a theater for a long time: continuous laughter.

This revival of Mr. Ludwig’s 1989 comedy-farce, a staple of regional theaters around the world, has been given new life by actor-turned-director Stanley Tucci. It is performed by a first-rate troupe of players from television and the movies, all of whom sport strong theatrical pedigrees, and make Mr. Ludwig’s slim comedy rise to a heady level of fun.

As a classical farce, "Lend Me a Tenor" is tame, conventional stuff; it could in no way be compared to the work of the ingenious inventors of the genre – the Greek playwrights Plautus and Terence; or such 19th-century practitioners as Feydeau (French) and Pinero (English); or even the Hollywood efforts of the Marx brothers.

Yet, Mr. Ludwig does have a facile take on the machinery of the farce art form: the setting up of intricate situations; the stereotyped, over-the-top character; its fast-paced knockabout, physical comedy; and, of course, the requisite opening and closing of five or six strategically placed doors. At times in "Lend Me a Tenor," there may be more perspiration than inspiration going on, but once the play gets rolling and the jokes start flying, there is a good deal of fun to be enjoyed.

"Lend Me a Tenor" is set in 1934 Cleveland, where local impresario Saunders (Tony Shalhoub) is presenting, from Italy, Tito Morelli (Anthony LaPaglia) in Verdi’s "Otello" for a one-night benefit for Cleveland Grand Opera Company.

If "Il Stupendo," as Mr. Morelli is known to his fans, doesn’t show up or is ill, the opera company has to return the $50,000 in ticket sales that it has amassed.

This being farce, the stakes keep getting set higher, and everything that can go wrong does go wrong, involving not only Tito, but the over-the-top Saunders; his wife, Julia (Brooke Adams, who is his wife off-stage, too); his pushy young assistant with operatic dreams, Max (Justin Bartha); Max’s fiancée, the Saunderses’ pretty daughter, Maggie (Mary Catherine Garrison); Tito’s fiercely jealous Italian wife, Maria (Jan Maxwell); a home-grown opera singer (Jennifer Laura Thompson); and a comic bellhop (Jay Klaitz).

All of these denizens contribute to this farrago spin’s ability to give laugh-parched audiences a shameless, good old time in the theater.

Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.