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Farces aside, 'Lend Me A Tenor' clever, entertaining

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

October 30, 2014

 
WAUKESHA - I am not usually a big fan of farces, yet I can appreciate the physical humor and the timing required to pull off their successes.  

Whenever one sees a multiplicity of doors, one is about to encounter this genre. They are needed for slamming, hiding behind, eavesdropping, providing privacy for forbidden moments and a plethora of entrances and exits.   

“Lend Me a Tenor” by Ken Ludwig has so clever a script and the cast at Waukesha Civic Theatre - under the able guidance of director Brian Zelinski - is so aptly chosen, that I relished the colossally entertaining experience, despite my initial reservations.  

Opera lends itself to satire. Even if one marvels at the range and dexterity of the vocal artistry on display, opera’s exaggerated characters and implausible plots plus the stereotypical egotistical star - all invite parody. Throw in mistaken identities, totally misunderstood conversations, bold flirtations, many surprises, histrionic characters, and a furious pace, and many laughs are sure to follow.  

Tension pervades the opening scene and many scenes to follow.  The Cleveland Opera Company is awaiting its star, Tito Morelli, who is scheduled to play Othello in a couple hours. Saunders, who runs the company, is yelling at his assistant Max for the star’s tardiness and at his daughter Maggie for hanging around awaiting the star’s appearance. Saunders’ explosive personality, Max’s obsequiousness and Maggie’s star-struck naivete all add to the humor.  

When Tito finally arrives, he and his fiery wife, Maria, are fighting. Tito has a penchant for pretty women who seem to flock around him wherever he goes. The ever-suspicious Maria leaves in a dramatic huff when discovering Maggie lurking in the closet of their suite, which serves to totally destabilize Tito. In order to calm him down, Max slips a few sleeping pills into his wine.  

When curtain time arrives, Tito is still comatose. What follows this crisis makes the drama that has occurred up to now seem like child’s play. I don’t want to give away anything that would diminish your enjoyment of all the surprises that lurk behind all those closed doors and the playwright’s fertile imagination.  

The ensemble of characters that keep us engaged include Max, the accommodating employee of Saunders, the wannabe opera star and the hopeful lover of Maggie. Phil Stepanski meets the incredible challenge of this role as we watch his transformation from wheedling to confident. His vocals do not always seem up for the task, but even that adds to the humor.  

Matthew J. Patten, with his usual comic flair, tackles his role as the volatile Saunders admirably. His daughter Maggie is played with panache by Allison Chicorel.  Joan End swishes in and out of several scenes as Julia, the self-impressed, self-serving member of the board, who imagines herself more important and attractive than she really is. Tanya Tranberg as the diva Diana, who yearns for more fame and fortune, uses Tito for her own ends. Tranberg is good at flirting and cajoling. Even the busboy (Scott Fudali) makes his cameo role count.  

Of course, the other strong role is that of Tito, very powerfully rendered by Tony Davis, who has the pipes and the comic talent to make the character memorable. The only real match for him is Maria, well portrayed by Julie Rowley, who can match his need for adoration and can bring him down a notch when he needs it.  

The set design by Michael Talaska is splendid, and the costumes by Montana Mariscal are exquisit. The only flaw in the whole production is the choice of the wiggy-looking wigs. I’m sure the use of wigs serves a purpose in saving time before each performance, but there must be more realistic ones available somewhere.  Maggie’s and Maria’s were particularly glaring mistakes.  

If you need some hearty laughs, check out “Lend Me a Tenor.” It is well executed and might even make a convert out of those who, like me, are not that fond of farces.   

“Lend Me A Tenor” runs weekends through Nov. 9 at the Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 W. Main St., Waukesha. For show times and tickets, call 262-547-0708 or visit www.waukeshacivictheater.org.