The cast is ideal. The plot, less so. In fact, it’s downright ridiculous. But after all, Lend Me a Tenor is an unapologetic farce. And the detailed direction of Stanley Tucci – right down to explosive fireworks, bubbles overflowing from the bathroom and an inspired and imaginative recap of the play at curtain call pulls it all together.
If laughter is the best medicine then you should leave all logic behind and certainly rush to see the newly revived Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig now shaking up a storm of laughter at The Music Box on West 45th Street. A rumbling of the earth, seismic level 8.0, is the result of the fine group of skilled farceurs who bring to exaggerated life the very implausible if very laughable script.
Cleveland. 1934. On another beautifully designed period set by John Lee Beatty with the requisite number of doors to be slammed which also provide striking entrances of gorgeous gowns and furs and capes and tuxedoes provided by Martin Pakledinaz we discover that Italian tenor, Tito Merelli (Anthony LaPaglia) is late for rehearsals of the opera Otello which has given heartburn to impresario Henry Saunders (Tony Shalhoub) and thoughts of perhaps going on for the missing star to Max (Justin Bartha) his assistant and would be singer who is enthralled with Maggie (Mary Catherine Garrison) daughter of said victim of heartburn.
When Tito finally appears with his jealous and passionate wife Maria (Jan Maxwell) all sorts of complications ensue which include his co-operatic star Diana (Jennifer Laura Thompson) and Chairman of the Board, Julia (Brooke Adams in her jaw dropping Chrysler Building inspired gown and tiara).
All to the delight of the audience which has pills and pits and a champagne cork popped out through the fourth wall onto their laps or heads depending on the thrust and aim of the actor discharging the missile. All the women want to give their favors to Tito (no subtlety here) as does the ardent Bell Hop (Jay Klaitz). All the men wind up crying like babies in this over the top and frothy production.
Needless to say, Max does go on and is a huge success without anyone knowing or commenting on the exchange due to the blackface make-up, wig and elaborate costume that in Act II has two Otello’s darting in and around the hotel suite. There is much jumping and humping and sexual innuendoes and mistaken identities and mix-ups to confuse even Confucius but it is extremely funny – in a madcap sort of way.
The slowly simmering, ready to erupt, cigar smoking, playing it for real performance by Tony Shalhoub is only topped by the dual role of Max/Otello. Justin Bartha becomes both characters here with incredible clarity and dexterity. His impersonation of Tito is priceless and may win him a Tony. Jan Maxwell, my favorite actress on Broadway, shines as Maria, delivering a powerful knock ‘em dead performance with a hiss to end all hisses. Mr. LaPaglia isn’t safe around her and dead pans beautifully.
But it is the well oiled and finely tuned machinery that Mr. Tucci has set into motion that starts out slowly but surely, accumulating more and more outrageous speed and hilarity as it reaches its final destination that sets off the real frivolity and fireworks that make Lend Me a Tenor so much fun. www.lendmeatenoronBroadway.com Photo: Joan Marcus