I love my operas bigger than life, bold and passionate. I love my plays about operas bigger than life, bold, passionate and hilarious.
Lend Me A Tenor, which has just opened at Upper Canada Playhouse, and runs until August 24, is all of the above, and then some.
Ebullient characters, impossible mix-ups, outrageous lines, and some of the best laughs you will experience in a theatre this summer, Lend Me A Tenor is simply great fun. Director Donnie Bowes’ eight man cast is dynamic, all of them easily able to deal with both the frantic pace of the play and its demands on their acting stamina.
The story is set in 1934, in a hotel suite near the Cleveland Opera House where Italian opera superstar, Tito Morelli, is scheduled to give one performance only of his most famous role, Otello.
The Opera House has a lot riding on this show. Manager Henry Saunders has wilting shrimp hors d’ouevres, a full stage crew, back up singers, a chorus line, an interfering opera board and 1,000 paid patrons in search of a spot of culture, in place, awaiting the arrival of the great Morelli.
To add operatic overtones to the plot, the temperamental tenor arrives several hours late for his Cleveland engagement. He has grossly overindulged in train food, and adamantly refuses to attend a dress rehearsal. His nerves, he proclaims, are playing up. He will need some medication.
He gets a little more than he expected.
Sheldon Davis performs ‘Il Stupendo’ the tenor, as a character whose ego appears to be only slightly smaller than Luciano Pavarotti’s girth. Morelli’s fractured English and his habit of flinging himself dramatically all about his hotel room, swiftly sets the outrageous mood of the play…and also sets off audience howls.
Davis is priceless in the bombastic role. Yet he still manages to bring out his character’s sympathetic side. It is not easy, even for Morelli, to be hounded by a fickle public, and to exist out of suitcases. (“I live in hotels! If I have children they gonna look like bellhops!”)
Perhaps that is why Tito’s relationship with his long-suffering wife, Maria (Susan Greenfield, having a wonderful time in the role), is tempestuous, and very, very funny. They don’t talk these two. They shout. They gesture. They threaten.
“Someday you gonna wake up in you bed, you gonna be a soprano!”
“My wife, she’s-a crazy! Shutta up yourself!”
Witness to the Morelli domestic outbursts is Max, Parris Greaves, the harried Cleveland Opera assistant manager and its general “dogsbody,” as the insufferable Henry Saunders (Ed Sahely) describes him. Ordered to keep the womanizing Tito “on a leash” until performance time, Greaves’ Max soon finds himself drowning in Machiavellian cover-ups. Especially when it appears, early in Act I, that ‘Il Stupendo’, in a fit of remorse, may have actually done himself in.
“It was acknowledged that Tito sang like an angel. Apparently he wanted to prove it,” an enraged Saunders says acidly. The Cleveland Opera manager now faces that greatest of all theatrical calamities – returning ticket money!
Someone must put on the Otello costume and sing the opera. And who better than Max, who actually knows the role? (So what if he’s never sung outside his shower.)
The plot complications fly thick and fast, to the audience’s evident delight. Soon there are two Tito Morellis on the loose in Cleveland, and one of them has slugged an unforgiving cop.
Into this comic buffet, toss Maggie, Max’s on-again, off-again fiancé (played with wide-eyed naiveté by Liz Gilroy) who is desperate for a “wider experience,” preferably with the great star. Stir in the formidable head of the Opera Guild, Julia (Patti Kazmer), who is also Tito ‘stage-struck’, and a most unexpected fashionista. (“How do I look?” Saunders: “Like the Chrylser Building.”)
Blend in bellhop Doug Tangney (who can set the audience giggling just by walking on stage) complete with his camera, his autograph book and his running feud with Saunders.
And finally, spice the whole feast up via the sultry Diana (AnnaMarie Lea), who is only too ready to do “whatever” it takes to get to the Met stage ‘a la Tito’.
However, as she later hilariously observes, at a crucial moment, there does seem to be rather an overabundance of Titos in the hotel suite! (“I’ve been two timed before, but never with so much flair!”)
The laughs are loud and long throughout the entire play. Bowes has also punctuated certain actions on stage by the introduction of some unexpected and quite inspired bits of real opera. Bravo!
Incidentally, be prepared to be bowled over by the vocal talents of Davis and Greaves – what a pleasure to hear them!
Bowes has staged a classic, thoroughly wonderful comedy for the third play of the season. Plan to spend time with Il Stupendo and the mad cap characters of Lend Me A Tenor. As Tito would say, it’s all “molto bene”!
Contact the Playhouse at 613-543-3713 for tickets.