Laugh at Tito again
By Tom Titus
The Daily Pilot
Thursday, September 3, 2009
You may be able to quote upcoming lines from memory when you watch the frantic comedy “Lend Me a Tenor” at the Costa Mesa Playhouse, but chances are you’ll still be laughing just as hard as you were the first time you heard them.
Playwright Ken Ludwig (he’s billed as Kenneth in the Costa Mesa program) has built a career on turning back the clock and focusing on regional show business (“Moon Over Buffalo,” “Leading Ladies,” “Twentieth Century”), but it’s his “Lend Me a Tenor” that local theaters have seized on with a vengeance.
It’s set in 1934 Cleveland, where the local opera company is awaiting a famous guest artist, Tito Morelli, to sing the title role in its production of “Otello.” When the great one finally arrives, after consuming some wax fruit and an overdose of prescription pills, he’s dead to the world — or at least to the opera manager and his assistant.
The latter pair concoct an improbable scheme whereby the assistant dons Tito’s costume and impersonates him at the performance. Great idea, except for one thing — the real singer is very much alive.
There’s a rich 1930s feel to director David Anthony Blair’s accelerated production, along with a generous dose of period-intensive farcical interpretation.
Most prominent in that regard is Jaycob Hunter as the quick-witted assistant who becomes an overnight star and tackles his romance problems in the bargain.
Hunter revels in the frenetic tempo of the show, shifting from one facet to another with alacrity.
He may not physically resemble Tito (who stands a head taller), but in costume and makeup, who cares? Certainly not the comely daughter of his boss (Bethany Hamrick), whom he’s endeavoring to win.
Hamrick plays it straight and narrow up to a point, that point arriving when she engages in a torrid fling with the tenor she believes to be Tito. Meanwhile, Tito himself is enjoying the favors of his Desdemona (a seductive Barbara Gibbs, also the show’s costumer) in the adjoining room.
Gordon Marhoefer is fine as the constantly rattled opera manager, while Paul Burt is a richly robust Tito. The showstopper, however, is Norma Jean Riddick as Tito’s hot-blooded Italian wife, who consistently addresses him at the top of her voice.
Veteran actress Shirley Romano — in a glittery gown that makes her look, as one character comments, “like the Chrysler building” — beautifully sells her brief scenes as the opera guild president. And Travis Stolp insinuates himself irreverently into the action as the star-obsessed bellhop.
The art deco setting — credited to director Blair along with Dave Carleen, Jessica-Elisabeth and Kathy Kline — is beautifully accomplished, and Gibbs’ costumes are elegantly rendered. John McQuay’s sound design — operatic accompaniment during the vocalizing sequences — is impressive.
“Lend Me a Tenor” may be one of the more familiar plays on the local circuit, but it’s still good for an abundance of laughs at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
“Lend Me A Tenor” Sings Along In Perfect Pitch
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The Daily Voice
By Jill Fales
Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse officially kicked off its 2009-10 season last week with the opening of the comical “Lend Me A Tenor” directed by David Anthony Blair.
“Lend Me A Tenor” first opened in London’s West Side in 1986 where it ran for 10 months. The Broadway production ran for 476 performances.
Set in 1934, the play centers on the Cleveland Opera Company’s production of “Otello,” starring the beloved and very famous Italian tenor, Tito Morelli. The theater manager Saunders is sure that having Morelli perform will put Cleveland Opera Company on the map.
After Tito’s arrival, through a series of small mishaps, Tito passes out from too many tranquilizers and too much wine.
When theater assistant Max goes to wake up Tito and take him to the theater, Max cannot wake him and believes he is dead.
Saunders begs Max to impersonate the great Tito Morelli; he has $50,000 and his entire reputation riding on the success of the show.
In addition to writing a hilarious farce of mistaken identity, double entendres and the rise of an underdog, playwright Kenneth Ludwig affectionately pokes fun at the world of opera. Opera, as it turns out, is playwright Ken Ludwig’s first love as he writes in his newly launched blog on his website:
“Lend Me A Tenor, of course, is about the world of opera; and I wrote it partly to honor that world that I loved so much. “
Not going to see Lend Me a Tenor at the Costa Mesa Playhouse is more than a missed opportunity to see superb community theater; it is a missed opportunity to laugh, which we all need to do more.
Among my favorite scenes were the passionate Italian marital spats between Tito (Paul Burt) and Maria (Norma Jean Riddick). Their chemistry, timing, and accents were hilarious.
While actors Burt and Riddick gave glorious, loud and passionate performances, Jaycob Hunter who played Max mastered the subtleties that made his performance tremendous. He reminded me of Jason Alexander’s nervous and neurotic character George Costanza from “Seinfeld.”
It takes great skill to make the audience believe that you are one character who then tries to impersonate another. Hunter did it flawlessly.
The story is set in the hotel suite of Tito. I am always so impressed how a community theater, lacking any real budget, can stage such a believable and detailed set.
Leaving the Costa Mesa Playhouse, I half expected to see a hot dog cart, or someone hailing a cab. But turning onto Harbor Boulvard, and seeing Norm’s, I was forced to accept I was still in Costa Mesa.
“Lend Me A Tenor” will play on weekends through Sept. 20; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.General admission is $18; Students and seniors get in for $16. 661 Hamilton St. in Costa Mesa. 949.650.5269. http://www.costamesaplayhouse.org
Here’s a comment that I found on the Daily Voice Website:
READER COMMENTS (1)
I am looking forward to seeing this play soon. Having seen Norma Jean Riddick in other performances I am a true fan.