Story: Henry Saunders has big plans for the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. Although the company is struggling with everyone else in the Great Depression, its general manager Saunders has come up with a dazzling idea for a fund-raiser: Get renowned opera star Tito Morelli, aka Il Stupendo, to perform the title role in Verdi’s Otello with the Cleveland Grand Opera. When Morelli accepts the assignment, Henry’s hopes are raised even higher.
Saunders charges his dutiful assistant, Max, with the responsibility of making sure Morelli is well-rested in his hotel room prior to the performance. There are complications, though: Saunders’ daughter and Max’s girlfriend Maggie is smitten with the hot-blooded Italian and determined to meet him. That won’t sit well with Morelli’s wife Maria, who has low tolerance for his flirtatious ways.
When Maria finds Maggie hiding in a closet hoping to meet Morelli, she angrily departs the hotel, leaving behind a huffy note to her husband. Morelli, already sedated by Max to calm him down prior to the show, loses his composure upon seeing the note before passing out. Finding Morelli unresponsive, Max panics until Saunders convinces him to portray Otello in blackface and impersonate the famed tenor. What could possibly go wrong?
Highlights: Ken Ludwig’s 1986 farce is very funny stuff, replete with the requisite number of slamming doors (six or so) to offer suitable mayhem as mistaken identities run rampant. Eight characters constantly create manic situations to confuse and amuse an audience.
While not exactly conforming to Act Inc.’s specialty of presenting “forgotten gems of theater,” it’s very funny material when done well. Act Inc. does a good enough job to keep the laugh-o-meter on ‘high’ for much of the performance.
Other Info: Scenic designer Pippin McGowan sets the table for laughter with a set that comfortably accommodates a two-room hotel suite, with a parlor room at stage right adjoined to a bedroom at stage left. It's handsomely decorated with props furnished by Eleanor Mullin and Jane Sullivan that bespeak an elegant hotel that could host an international opera star, circa 1934. Michael Sullivan adds lighting, Zoe Sullivan handles sound design and Lisa Haselhorst does the costuming.
Director Lori Renna maintains a good pace for the most part, which is essential if farce is to work to its maximum potential. She benefits from two splendid performances by Michael Juncal as Morelli and Adam Grun as the befuddled Max, The Man Who Would Be Morelli.
Both performers bring flair and fine comic style to their portrayals, with Juncal adding just the right amount of finesse to make Morelli’s calamity and subsequent reaction to it all the more uproarious, especially in the second act. Grun is appealing and entertaining as the nervous assistant who manages to stay one step ahead of disaster, more or less.
Anna Grimm is good at indicating Maggie’s girlish infatuation with Morelli and her more resigned acceptance of her boyfriend. Judy Yordon has fun as Julia, busybody chairwoman of the Cleveland Opera Guild and another devoted Morelli fan. Greg Matzker hams it up as an obnoxious bellhop who is determined to meet the opera star, while Allie Kauling is the wannabe diva who flirts aggressively with Morelli, albeit not too convincingly.
Therese Melnykov has some humorous moments as Morelli’s headstrong wife, and Harry Weber occasionally gets into high gear as the overbearing, blustery Saunders, although often he seems too refined and reserved for the role.
Despite some shortcomings, Act Inc.’ s presentation of Lend Me a Tenor has enough laughs and wackiness to ensure a good time for an audience at its new home on the campus of Lindenwood University in St. Charles.
Play: Lend Me a Tenor
Company: Act, Inc.
Venue: Emerson Theater, J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts, Lindenwood University, 2300 West Clay Street, St. Charles
Dates: June 28, 29
Tickets: $20; contact 636-949-4433 or actincstl.com
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb