Funny. Very funny. That’s the best way to describe the revival of Ken Ludwig’s 1989 farce, Lend Me a Tenor. Featuring an A-List cast, the comedy incorporates many of the characteristics of classic farce—improbable situations, mistaken identities and a hefty dollop of physical zaniness.
Tony Shalhoub plays Saunders, the General Manager of the Cleveland Opera, who has hired Italian tenor, Tito Merelli, portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia, for a high-priced fundraising event. Of course, soon the best laid plans begin to go awry, which sets the madcap plot into motion. Shalhoub, as the high-strung and bombastic impresario, Saunders, is a pure joy. His slow burns, over-the-top histrionics, and comedic timing are priceless. LaPaglia plays more the straight man in the show, but his portrayal of the bloated, pompous, and overly sexed, “Il Stupendo,” is exuberant and flamboyant. His ying to Shalhoub’s yang is integral to the production’s success. The other “name” actor is Justin Bartha, making his Broadway debut and better known as Nicholas Cage’s sidekick in the National Treasure movies as well as the sunburned groom-to-be in last year’s smash, The Hangover. Here, as Max, playing a slightly wimpish assistant to the overbearing Saunders, Bartha comes off a bit too wooden, not appearing as comfortable as the theater veterans that populate the show. Still, his Max is endearing and, in the end, a winning performance.
The rest of the cast--Mary Catherine Garrison, as Max's starry-eyed girlfriend, hopelessly pining for a romantic tryst with Merelli; Jennifer Laura Thompson, as a flirtatious diva; Brooke Adams, as a daft chairwoman of the Opera Guild; and Jay Klaitz, as a pushy and overbearing bellhop--are equally as good. The standout is Jan Maxwell, as Merelli’s long-suffering wife. Not only does she get to overly emote and wail away at her two timing husband, but she also has the opportunity for some physical theatrics.
Stanley Tucci, making his Broadway directorial debut, keeps the action lively and allows his cast to broadly attack their roles. He has a fine sense of the comedic craft and demonstrates this deft ability throughout this side-splitting production.
One added delight is the show’s setting. The Music Box Theater is a small, intimate house perfectly suited for two hours of rollicking fun.
Lend Me a Tenor, a pure delight and welcome addition to the New York stage.