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Chamber's finale is laugh a minute

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

April 17, 2014

 

WAUKESHA - The winner of two Tony Awards and often called the second-funniest farce ever written, “Lend Me a Tenor” by Ken Ludwig has been chosen by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre for its finale of the season.

This offering is part of the program of collaboration with Wisconsin college students that the chamber launched several years ago to encourage young dramatic artists.  Marquette University participated in this production, and though I’ve enjoyed seeing this comedy many times before, this showing surpasses them all. It was deliciously hilarious.

The set is designed with six doors. They are needed for fast entrances and exits, hiding behind, pounding on and slamming. The pastel set and the art deco furnishings create a pleasing and functional design for the mayhem to come (Rachel Finn). Costumes by Debra Krajec are superbly chosen, especially the one gracing the fiery Maria (Rana Roman).

Tension pervades the opening scene as The Cleveland Opera Company awaits its star, Tito Merelli, who is scheduled to sing “Otello” to celebrate the theater’s tenth anniversary. Saunders, who runs the company, is yelling at his assistant Max for the star’s tardiness and at his daughter Maggie for hanging around, waiting to behold her idol. Saunder’s explosive personality, well captured by Drew Brhel, Max’s obsequiousness, beautifully rendered by the versatile Rick Pendzich, and Maggie’s wide-eyed naivete, nicely portrayed by the fledging actor Hannah Klapperich-Mueller, all set the stage for the drama to come.

When Tito finally arrives, he and his wife, Maria, are fighting, one of their favorite pastimes, apparently. Tito has a penchant for pretty women who tend to flock around him wherever he goes. Well-chosen part for the handsome Steven M. Koehler (who also has a voice to match his stunning looks). Rana Roman is the ultimate enraged Italian wife who is jealous of his escapades. She soon exits, leaving poor Tito in a wildly anxious state. In an effort to calm him, Max slips several barbiturates into his glass of wine.

Curtain time approaches and Tito is more than rested. He is comatose and taken for dead. The unlikely solution is for Max, who just so happens to have an impressive voice, to be urged by Saunders to stand in for Tito. With blackened face and an Afro wig, nerdy little Max somehow is persuaded and pulls off the deception with surprising aplomb, with only he and Saunders aware of the colossal substitution.

After solving this crisis, many others follow - mistaken identities, totally misunderstood conversations, bold flirtations, an arrest,  and, of course, many dramatic exits and entrances, some provided by the above characters and others by Diana, the leading lady (Alexandra Bonesho), Julia,  a wealthy board member (Linda C. Loving) and a celebrity-smitten bellhop, memorably rendered by Peter Sisto. Cast members have been very well-selected by director Michael Wright, but the standout performance belongs to Rick Pendzich for his stellar depiction of Max.

The comedy is well-paced, the music nicely rendered, and the overall theatrical event, a total delight from the start to the clever curtain call. Kudos to all.

“Lend Me A Tenor” runs through April 27 at the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theater Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-291-7800 or visit www milwaukeechambertheatre.com.