FRONT ROW CENTER – January 2011


By Michael Warren

Lend Me a Tenor
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Roger Tredway


front-rowIf you like a traditional farce, chock full of mistaken identities, double entendres and doors slamming as characters rush in and out, this is the show for you. Roger Tredway has upped the pace to breakneck speed and his experienced cast responds with considerable flair.

All the actors do well in their various histrionic parts. Unlike the other frantic characters, Pat Carroll plays the world-famous tenor “Tito Merelli” (better known as El Stupendo) with a certain calm, perhaps because Tito is feeling sick from overeating and subsequently spends much of the play comatose from a combination of Chianti and tranquilizers.

Meanwhile, “Saunders” – the volatile manager of the Cleveland Opera company – is desperate to find a suitable replacement for El Stupendo. Russell Mack plays Saunders at full volume, mostly directing his rage and frustration at his hapless assistant “Max.” Ken Yakiwchuk is well cast as Max, and succeeds in making the character sympathetic and believable. Max has ambitions to be a singer, and despite considerable misgivings, Saunders manages to persuade him to go into blackface and dress up as Otello.

Who will ever know? Evidently his girl-friend “Maggie” can’t tell, as she is all over the pseudo-Tito, hot with admiration as he rings her chimes. Randi Watkins is delightful as Saunders’ not-so-innocent daughter Maggie, and hits just the right notes of sweetness and guile.

For the others on the distaff side, we have a trio of melodramatic females – Georgette Richmond as Tito’s possessive and slightly crazy wife “Maria,” Sally Jo Bartlett as the ambitious soprano “Diana” and Patteye Simpson as the effusive Board chairman “Julia.” You can imagine the chaos and confusion as Tito recovers consciousness and we have two Otello characters on stage, a jealous wife and a bevy of operatic ladies in various stages of undress. Patteye, wearing an amazing hat, has great stage presence and is more like a soprano than the soprano – she actually sings some of her lines.

However, all three do well, and the audience have a good time laughing at the very farcical second act. At times there was so much noise and laughter that some of the lines got lost – however, it doesn’t matter, this tends to happen in a successful farce. Georgette has a great time in an over-the-top role, screaming and shouting and having a theatrical hissy fit in an Italian accent. By contrast, Sally Jo is quieter as the scheming Diana, and she has a wonderfully funny scene as she attempts to find favor with the confused Tito. Finally, Graham Miller is entertaining in a cameo part as the overeager bellhop.

This is a very funny play, which has previously done well on Broadway and in the West End. It’s a fast-paced romp with plenty of physical comedy and wacky misunderstandings. This excellent cast, ably directed by Roger Tredway, had a good time with it and the audience went home happy. The set and costumes were solid – not noticeably in the 1930s style or particularly flamboyant, except of course for Patteye Simpson’s incredible hat. I congratulate all involved in this successful show, especially Gerri Tredway as Producer and Trish Conner as Stage Manager.

In January, there will be a touch of something humorous and sentimental, the drama Tribute directed by Roseann Wilshere – it opens on January 15th.

Ojo Del Lago
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