At Theatre Palisades, Making It a Must See
After the initial setup, this Theatre Palisades production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” written by Ken Ludwig, produces nonstop laughs and is absolutely delightful.
If you continue reading, you’ll find that this review has nothing but positives. People may be curious about seeing the play, then. But the real reason this run will sell out is word of mouth.
“This is the best one they’ve done,” a theater goer said when leaving the Pierson Playhouse after the opening night on May 31.
And it is. Sherman Wayne is superb in directing farces and comedies, and he scores a home run with this one.
I haven’t laughed out loud at the silliness, the mistaken identities and the physical comedy, as much as I did with this one. The images of three large grown men, in suits, stacked on a bed, still flitter through my thoughts and make me laugh.
The story revolves around a renowned operatic tenor, Tito Mirelli, who is scheduled to perform at a fundraiser for the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. General manager Henry Saunders has heard the rumors about the tenor’s womanizing and alcohol imbibing and is understandably nervous.
Henry asks his “gofer,” Max, to keep Tito in his sights, babysit him, until the performance. What could go wrong?
The tenor’s wife is jealous of all the women who surround the star. Even Max’s girlfriend is in love with Tito. The soprano in the show hopes that by giving Tito a little extra “attention,” he might say a good word to his agent about her. Julia, the head of the Opera Guild, hopes to get closer to Tito. The bellhop (Randy Oppenheimer) also fights for Tito’s attention.
There is a presumed death, crazy costumes, sex romps (G-rated of course), mistaken identities, numerous exits and entrances, and just lots and lots of physical comedy – and laughs.
The actors and the casting are superb. Tito (Peter Miller) and wife Maria (Maria O’Connor) are perfectly cast as the prima uomo and his jealous wife. To hear them argue, with perfect timing and proper hand gestures, still has me laughing.
Saunders (Greg Abbott) is a marvel. The expressions on his face, and his “takes” are perfect. If you want to watch someone who knows how to do physical comedy, march on over. You’ll see a master at work with Saunders.
Equally fun is Julia (Martha Hunter), whose telephone call elicits well-deserved laughter and her attempt to seduce Tito is funny.
And no comedy is perfect without a love story. Max (Jeff DeWitt) is hapless, lacking confidence and just can’t get a promise from Maggie (Holly Sidell) to marry him. She just doesn’t hear bells when she’s around him.
Sidell is perfect as the love-sick fan of Tito, while DeWitt has to go from nerd to a Mick Jagger bigger-than-life presence and does it ably.
Then there’s the blonde bombshell Diana (Stephanie Stern), who only would have had to use a pinkie to wave an audience-member on stage and they would have hopped up there in a heartbeat. She is the embodiment of a femme fatale.
Sherman Wayne writes in his Director’s Notes, “This shallow piece of foolishness is here for one reason alone – to make you laugh.”
It did: Wayne succeeded marvelously.
Costume designer June Lissandrello must also be praised: everything is just exquisite for this 1934 time period – including garter belts and seamed nylon stockings. The silver dress worn by Hunter is described as looking like the “Chrysler Building” and it does.
The play opened on London’s West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1989, where it received nine Tony Award nominations. Philip Bosco won for Best Actor and Jerry Zaks won for Best Direction. It was also nominated for six Drama Desk Awards, winning four (Outstanding Actor, Outstanding Featured Actress, Outstanding Director and Outstanding Costume Design).
The show plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 7 at Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd. Tickets are $22 for general admission and seniors and students are $20. Visit: theatrepalisades.org or call (310) 454-1970.