'Tenor' is worth more than a loan

Published October 21, 2006

Even if you've seen Ken Ludwig's farce Lend Me a Tenor before, consider seeing it again at the Richey Suncoast Theatre, weekends through Nov. 5.

The cast is well chosen (okay, neither of the "tenors" is actually a tenor, but director Saul Leibner finesses that quite cleverly) and so confident and well prepared, you'll think you're seeing people who have been doing the show for a year.

So you can relax and enjoy without worrying someone will drop a line, flub a scene or fall into the orchestra pit -no small accomplishment with a play so fast-paced and physically demanding.

Tenor is set in Cleveland, where the Cleveland Grand Opera is bringing in internationally famous tenor Tito Morelli (Bill Schommer) to play the lead in Otello for a fundraiser. Tito and his jealous wife Maria (Ann Lakey) arrive, fussy and tired. Tito downs some sleeping pills and a helpful backstage gofer-aspiring tenor named Max (Bob Marcela), trying to help, adds a few more. Before long, Tito is sleeping like the dead, and theater manager Henry Saunders (Bob Reece in an award-worthy performance) is frantic to find a star, lest he have to refund the ticket money.

Henry persuades Max to dress up like Otello and do the show. He does, which attracts three amorous women to Tito's hotel suite, where chaos and hilarity ensue.

Ludwig's script is solid, and the story most amusing, but it takes well-honed performances to make this show work. That's where the Richey Suncoast version shines, with eight accomplished performers mixing it up like a bowl of delicious panzanella salad.

Director Leibner knew that at least half the players could justify playing their characters over the top, but the play works much better if only one character does.

For this production, Leibner made it Saunders, and a wise choice it is. Reece's slight frame, energetic style and vaguely nasal voice work perfectly in this role. He's on the stage precisely enough time to rev up the action, but not so much as to wear out the audience. His patient, careful, imaginary announcements to the "Cleveland" audience move the story along and elucidate exactly how ridiculous the whole situation is. His frenetic physical comedy is funnier because it is so unthreatening.

Schommer plays Tito as good-natured, slightly bumbling and well meaning. Marcela's Max is level-headed and nice. This trio of Tito, Max and Saunders work off each other to a satisfying turn, with a high-energy young bellhop (Cody Carlson) adding a fine comic touch.

The four females in the show add spice: sexy, ambitious Diana (Susan Nichols), whose moves are completely misunderstood by the harried Tito; young and romantic Maggie (Genevieve Griffin), who misunderstands herself; the lusty dowager Julie (Mary Frances Kirkpatrick), who understands exactly what she wants; and Maria, who unwittingly sets off all the action.

The story moves along quickly, thanks to set designer Charlie Skelton, whose sizable crew built walls and doors that can withstand a lot of slamming, and sound and light operator Megan Gillespie, whose timing is right on the mark.

Coming in at just over two hours, Lend Me a Tenor provides at least four hours worth of laughs.


Lend Me a Tenor, weekends through Nov. 5 at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey. Shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and an hour before each show. Call (727) 842-6777