Lend Me a Tenor

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Provo Theatre Company’s 1997-98 season is off to a roaring start with the fast-paced, rowdy farce “Lend Me a Tenor.”

Written by Ken Ludwig (who also wrote “Crazy for You,” with some very similar plot elements), “Lend Me a Tenor” is the story of a Cleveland opera house that somehow manages to get world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli (Lon Keith) to sing “Otello” with their company. This being a farce, Merelli of course promptly winds up dead, and someone has to dress up like him to fool the audience. Hilarity ensues.

PTC has a well-deserved reputation for producing good shows, and “Tenor” is no exception. The play has slow moments, with long exchanges of dialogue that aren’t too funny, but we soon see that those scenes were setting up future, more uproarious, events — laying out the dominos before knocking them all down, if you will.

Baron A. Rohbock plays Max, the opera producer’s whipping boy, with great comic timing. He spends much of the play with his mouth agape, either in horror or surprise at what’s going on around him. He’s not a “leading man” so much as he is a guy who gets caught in the middle of a huge mess that he can’t get out of.

Probably the best character in the entire show is Maria Merelli (Linda Bramwell), the tenor’s fiesty wife. It is rare to see a character performed with such hysterical precision. Her lines are funny, sure, but her delivery puts them over the top, and her Italian accent is perfect. She is a joy to watch onstage.

The show is full of double-entendres (and single-entendres, for that matter), and one scene ends with two couples … um … well, just remember that the whole play takes place in a hotel room. That’s not to say that the whole play is “dirty,” because it’s not — but it certainly has its moments. Generally, though, the jokes are more “naughty little boy” than “dirty old man”; it is apparent that no offense is intended, and that it’s all in good fun.

Worth the price of admission by itself is the finale, which has the cast re-enacting the entire play, without dialogue, in two minutes. I have never seen such a stunningly choreographed piece of comedy. The doors all open and close, and the characters enter and exit with precision during the play itself, but that great comic timing is called into action even more in the finale.

So for an evening of frivolous, meaningless fun, “Lend Me a Tenor” is one of the best things you could do. Tickets are pricey ($12.50-$15), but the show is worth the money.

I had previously seen two shows at Provo Theatre Company, but this was the first time I had been there as a critic. PTC always does an outstanding job with its shows, and "Lend Me a Tenor" was one of the best I ever saw there.

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