Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
We needed a good laugh Friday night, and we got more than we bargained for as the UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance opened Ken Ludwig’s hilarious farce, Lend Me A Tenor. The house was moderately filled, but we spotted many theatre-loving folk clearly not wanting to miss this classic – nearly vintage – comedy. They were not disappointed!
Set in a Cleveland, Ohio hotel suite in 1934, the action began with the eagerly anticipated arrival of world famous, Tito Merelli (Gage Webster), the greatest tenor of his generation. The Cleveland Grand Opera Company has invited him to appear for one night only as Otello, but he’s late, and general manager Henry Saunders (Josh Cornea) is about to blow a gasket! Taking the brunt of Saunders’ wrath is his long-suffering assistant, Max (Paul Gregor).
The singer finally does appear and through a series of wildly comical mishaps is given at least a double or triple dose of tranquilizers causing him to collapse and be taken for dead. Now what?! Well, Max can take his place of course! Really? Yes! And he does, doing such a magnificent job, so they say, that no one suspects he is not Morelli. Still, you know folks don’t really die in comedies, so Morelli wakes up and dresses to sing and now there are two bearded fellows in tights running around totally confusing the issue!
We could go on, but you really need to see the show and get entangled with the zany web that makes for such a wonderfully funny and yes, intriguing show. Director William Irwin’s cast is uniformly able to carry out the intricate comic timing required to move this script along. Their nearly flawless precision enhances believability and inhales the audience into the action.
Every actor is outstanding, so we really must at least mention them all. Gregor’s Max moves from a shy, not so sure of himself introvert in love with the boss’s daughter to a confident winner by play’s end. As for that daughter, Devon Marinco is adorable as Maggie Saunders as she coyly flirts with Max/Tito.
Webster is perfection with his accent and his Italian bravado as he befriends Max and disappoints his wife, Maria (Andrea Orpinel). His overstated grief when Maria leaves launches him into an episode of epic sorrow compounded by the efforts of Cornea to revive him!
Orpinel is stern-faced and haughty, but truly in charge when necessary. Two other women pop in and out in search of a short audience with the star. First Julia (Hannah Erdman), every inch the wealthy matron, gives it her all to connect with Tito, and later the opera’s diva, Dian (Lindsey Briggs) arrives to garner the star’s critique of her vocal performance opposite him.
As if Cornea wasn’t enough with his short-tempered tantrums, the hotel Bellhop (Jordan Kinney) brings any number of comic interruptions in his desire to sing for Tito.
All in all, this troupe exudes comic timing and slapstick perfection. Their efforts are enhanced by the set with its many entrance and exit doors, all of which slam wonderfully and the detail with which it is designed. Even the slight glance we could see of the bathroom revealed a tiled half wall.
Costumes are also a boost, especially the Otello get- up with its wig, beard, tights, boots and cavalier hat. Indeed, Gregor and Webster were nearly identical in this costume thus increasing the believability of this wacky plot. And they weren’t bad singers either!
Lend Me A Tenor is well worth the trip to UM-Flint. Remember, laughter is the best medicine, and we all can use a healthy dose of that! This show continues March 24-25, 30-31. For more information contact the box office at 810-237-6520 or online at www.umflint.edu/theatredance