We've been given a lighthearted, whimsical gift with the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina's production of "Lend Me A Tenor," which was two and a half hours of pure amusement and comic relief.
The award-winning play was written by Ken Ludwig and directed locally by Russell Treyz. Everyone on hand for opening night came early and chatted enthusiastically as they filled the Elizabeth Wallace Theatre. It was an evening filled with references to things operatic and social, affairs of the heart, plain old affairs, good news and bad news, shrimp mayonnaise, the Chrysler Building, a gaping abyss, the list goes on.
The story revolves around Tito Merelli, a famous Italian operatic tenor, known by aficionados as "Il Stupendo." Merelli comes to Cleveland for one night only in 1934 to sing a show-stopping performance of "Otello" on the stage of the Cleveland Opera (seriously).
Happily, our Hilton Head Island production has closely followed the script and details set forth on the night of the show's opening on Broadway in 1989. The dialog flowed with innuendo and double entendres, which were made even more impactful by the sidelong glances of the actors.
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Operas and their accompanying librettos, singers, actors, conductors, impresarios, managers and those who love them, seem to lend themselves completely to providing a perfect storyline, filled with misunderstandings, miscues, missteps, mishaps, mistaken identity, and, most especially, issues of love, death and reconciliation.
If things could go wrong for these amazing characters, Ludwig, Treyz and this energetic cast saw that they did.
The period set puts us in an upscale hotel suite, where Max (Scott Evans), is awaiting the arrival of the now dangerously late Merelli (Ken Krugman). He must report to his boss, Saunders (Warren Kelly), that Merelli and his wife, Maria (Denise Cormier), have not arrived in time for rehearsal. There is much agitation, heightened by the appearance of Maggie (Susan Slotoroff), the daughter of Saunders, who is sort of engaged to Max but completely besotted at just the thought of Merelli.
There are five doors sprinkled around the set. Throughout the evening, each and every one is opened and shut with just the right amount of emotion. What particularly propels the silliness and whimsy of "Tenor" is the choreographed activity on stage. Once it starts, it really never stops.
Through no fault of his own, Merelli takes too many phenolbarbital along with a couple glasses of wine and seems to die in bed. Maria, his jealous wife, intercepts a note she believes is from one of his lovers and vows to kill him before she stomps off into the night. And, most spectacularly, Max, who really is an aspiring tenor, heroically agrees to stand in for Merelli at the evening's performance, and take on the role of Otello, black face, fright wig, tights and all.
In the meantime, and I don't think I'm giving anything away, Merelli awakens in full costume and turns up at the theater, where the outcome, as you can anticipate, is not good but very funny.
The most exquisite moments in "Tenor" come just before the final curtain. There is a wordless, reconstruction of the entire play.
It is hysterical.
What a riot this was.