Off Broadway Theatre gives Ken Ludwig’s great farce “Lend Me a Tenor” adequate treatment, though the play never quite rises to its manic possibilities.
“Lend Me a Tenor” has every element of a true farce: an improbable (but still possible) plot involving two-dimensional, high-society characters who slam a lot of doors, fall down a lot, mistake each other for someone else, and wind up happily ever after in the end.
The scene is Cleveland, where the local opera company has staged a major coup in getting the great Italian tenor Tito Merelli (Robert Bogue) to come sing the lead in “Otello.” The drunken, lecherous Merelli is late, however, and when his feisty wife Maria (Celesta Davis) leaves him, he gets awfully depressed in his hotel suite.
Meanwhile, opera house stooge Max (Ben Porter), told to take care of Tito, gives him some pills to calm him down. Tito takes too many, though, and falls into a deep sleep — and Max, unable to wake him, thinks he’s committed suicide.
Opera owner Saunders (Cody K. Carlson), whose daughter Maggie (Ashley Sandberg) is Max’s quasi-fiancee, has Max dress up at Otello (dark makeup, crazy wig, no one will recognize him) and sing the part onstage as if he were Tito Merelli. Sure enough, no one knows the difference — but the real Tito wakes up and gets into costume, and now there are two Tito Merellis running around, wooing the ladies and causing a great deal of disturbance.
Truly there is great potential for a loony comedy here, and OBT’s production has its moments. Bogue is the true star of the show, playing Tito with humor and absolutely no dignity — a plus, in this case. I found myself much relieved when Tito woke up, because I realized how much I’d missed him while he was asleep.
Porter’s Max is good at being frantic and high-strung, which is what the script calls for him to be much of the time. The supporting cast — Debby Blaser as the opera’s female lead, Alison Jensen as the opera house’s co-owner and Jonathan Olson as a shmoozy bellhop — are generally solid in their performances, if not particularly noteworthy.
A farce is difficult to do right. Since the plot and characters are ridiculous, you have to win the audience over through some other means. Usually, it’s slapstick humor, which is itself very hard to pull off. This production relies a little too much on people falling on couches and beds, but the timing is excellent: Doors open and close with precision, and characters narrowly missing seeing each other.
“Lend Me a Tenor” has a great script with some wonderful comic moments. OBT capitalizes on many of them, and the play is quite funny — but in the end, one gets the feeling it should have been funnier than it was.
Off Broadway Theatre strives to do family-friendly shows, which was a problem with "Lend Me a Tenor." Not only did they have to remove some swearing, they even changed the plot so that two couples who are scripted to have sex wind up stopping short of actually doing the deed.
There was a girl in the front row who laughed at everything that happened in this show, especially whenever someone fell down, which was approximately every three seconds. Here's a rule of thumb: If you find that you are frequently the only person in the audience who is laughing, it's a safe bet that you're laughing too much.