Brooke Adams, Justin Bartha, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jay Klaitz, Anthony LaPaglia, Jan Maxwell, Tony Shalhoub, Jennifer Laura Thompson
If there’s one thing made clear by the current revival of Lend Me A Tenor on Broadway, it’s that playwright Ken Ludwig is no master of subtlety. With a laugh-a-minute cast headed by Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shalhoub, and Justin Bartha, there’s very little to grumble about as regards the entertainment value of this production, directed with gleeful physicality by veteran actor Stanley Tucci, who does a find job choreographing the comic antics of his wacky troupe.
The premise of the play is thin. A first-rate opera star, Tito Merelli (LaPaglia) is flying to Cleveland, Ohio to star in a regional production of the opera Otello, making his U.S. debut and bringing boffo box office to a well-meaning company of singers. When he arrives, however, he’s soon found predisposed and presumed dead in his hotel room, leaving opera bigwig Saunders (Shalhoub) and his young charge Max (Bartha) to find a quick way to go on with the show.
Their hair-brained solution is to dress Max up as Merelli, rendering him almost unrecognizable in blackface and an overstuffed costume, causing a series of farcical mishaps to ensue as both the real Merelli and his impersonator come up against Merelli’s wife, a series of leggy female admirers, and an autograph hound-cum-bellhop.
Much of the comedy throughout is physical. Characters eat (and subsequently spit at the audience) wax fruit, find themselves in all manner of awkward romantic situations, and ultimately find things working themselves out for the best. Along the way, though, there are countless entrances and exits (mostly accompanied by slammed doors) and plenty of spot-on comedic moments.
Director Tucci wisely entrusts his cast to revel in the play’s physicality. On the page, there’s not much to distinguish Ludwig’s play from any other farce. It takes exactly the right mix of people to add the fizz to this cocktail-in-the-making, and the play’s three leading men, as well as Jan Maxwell as Merelli’s wife Maria, Mary Catherine Garrison as female ingenue Maggie, and the rest of this madcap crew to really make the play worthy of note, each of their scenes expertly timed to induce maximum laughs.
It’s occasionally maddening that so many of the play’s gags happen independent of the play’s situations, inspired by the actor’s vocal or physical cues rather than the humor inherent in a given moment in the play, but this nagging sensation soon fades to the background as the production’s mildly overwhelming, almost vaudevillian antics take hold in an evening of frothy, forgettable fun.