The fourth of the six plays in the whirlwind season of the Shawnee Theatre is Ken Ludwig’s Tony Award winning comedy Lend Me a Tenor.
The show opens in a hotel suite with the cast in an already comically high state of tension. The Cleveland Opera Company’s manager Sauders played by Josh Carroll, Lisa Ermel as his stage struck daughter Maggie and Mike Carey as Max the company’s harried gofer nervously await the arrival of fabled Italian opera star, Tito Merelli for a performance of Verdi’s Otello.
Adding to that tension are visits from the pushy head of the opera board, Julia, played by Gail Bray, and the opera’s Desdemona, an aspiring soprano played by Amy Thomason. Even the hotel’s the bell hop, Mike Detmer, is an opera wannabe.
A weary Merelli, played by Alan Shepard and his fiery termagant wife Maria played by Allie Beckmann do arrive, but Merelli is too tired to rehearse takes too many pills for a nap and then appears to be dead. The allusion is fortified as Maria has had one of her fits and left a note that looks like a suicide pact as she stormed out. Once again the company seems to be in need of a tenor.
The nervous Max, buoyed by a very funny brief voice lesson with Merelli, the dire needs of the company, his own ego and a desire to impress Maggie agrees to put on the requisite black face, don Merelli’s backup costume and sing the show. He’s a hit, everyone is happy and the company director loudly says that “from here on its clear sailing,” or at least something like that. But this is comedy so you know that the sailing will be anything but clear.
Merelli wasn’t dead. He was just very much asleep. During the performance he awakens, puts on his second costume and now we have two men in identical black face and costume running around. A very funny scene ensues when the groggy Merelli is asked by the evening’s Desdemona about her performance. Merelli thinks that she must be referring to a liaison and as she asks him about details, claims to be professional and finally tells him that in just five minutes with his manager she’s sure to be a success the laughter mounted.
At the same time that Merelli is scoring with Desdemona, Max still in costume is having a somewhat similar scene with Maggie. She’s overwhelmed by the evening’s music and is totally smitten with the man that sang it. The clear headed Max like the foggy Tito does take advantage of the situation. It’s just a little bit edgy and very funny too.
Eventually, after all this is a comedy everything is sorted out. A repentant Tito and the now motherly Maria depart followed by the opera loving bellhop who’s still after an autograph. Max and the now more worldly wise Maggie are solid. The opera company’s board president has the pleasure of the evening’s coup and even the nervous company manager Sauders is paired with the aspiring soprano. It’s a tribute to playwright Ken Ludwig’s script and to the skillful direction by Jake Miller that all this nonsense now makes total sense.
Lend Me a Tenor at the Shawnee Theatre plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at eight and Sundays at two through July 19th.