KPBS AIRDATE: December 5, 1991
You always have to read between the lines. Otherwise, you’d be absolutely flabbergasted to learn that Ken Ludwig’s silly little trifle, “Lend Me a Tenor,” was a winner of two Tony Awards. At its Broadway debut two years ago, the play did indeed garner two Tonys — but they were for the director and star, not for the play itself.
Whew. That made me feel better. But in London, where it was originally produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theater company, it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Comedy of the Year. Well, at least it didn’t win. In Canada, however, it did. It was voted Best Play of the Year. And it’s already been translated into 15 languages. And soon to be a feature film.
Go figure. Because truly, the plot is goofy to the max. But, I support the Tony Awards presentations; it’s really all about direction and star turns. And, in that vein, the San Diego Actors Theatre does it up proud.
The characters — like the opera stars-and-groupies they play — are larger than life. And that leaves plenty of room for this wonderful stable of San Diego actors to take off and propel themselves skyward, way over the top but well within the bounds of fatuous farce.
First, there’s Brian Salmon, that talented chameleon who sports a completely camouflaging toupee and a heavy Italian accent. He’s stupendous as the chianti-drinking, womanizing, obnoxio profundo Tito Morelli, the world-class tenor known as “Il Stupendo.”
Tito fights incessantly with his volcanic wife, deliciously played by Patricia Elmore. When she walks out on him, Tito OD’s on wine and pills and passes out. It’s just before curtain time for “Otello.” What’s an apoplectic 1930s Cleveland Opera impresario to do? He can’t tell the truth or refund 1000 $50 tickets. It makes much more sense to let his nerdy assistant stand in for Il Stupendo, even though the man has never performed professionally before.
Miraculously, unbelievably, no one notices, not even the geek’s girlfriend, who comes to lay her body at the … um, feet of the great tenor. (The soprano and the Chair of the Opera Guild try to do the same.) The bellhop sings arias while pouring champagne. Then the great one wakes up, dons his backup Otello costume and triggers a split-second series of mistaken identities, slamming doors, hidings in closets and bathrooms, and all manner of mayhem. This is farce, after all. And one thing that makes farce work is timing.
Director Scott Rubsam has it down to the nanosecond. He keeps his capable cast hopping like a handful of jumping beans. Although the lines aren’t all that funny, the situations and the manic pace are. You’ll chuckle and smile, even if you don’t guffaw. What’s a guffaw, anyway? There’s a recession on; the best you can hope for is a guh-three.
But for good ole farcical fun, in the sleekest, most attractive set ever to grace the Sixth Avenue Playhouse, see “Lend Me a Tenor.” Never mind that the two lead actors – supposedly tear-jerking tenors _ can’t sing themselves out of a shower stall. Never mind that there’s more hysteria than hilarity onstage. You’ll watch an accomplished cast, and a slick, professional production. And you can perfect your chuckles and chortles.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.