A farce in the tradition of Have You Anything to Declare, and a comedy worthy of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor, was a magnificent achievement in its staging by the Milwaukee Chamber Theater.
My wife and I attended the performance of Saturday, and I must say we enjoyed it thoroughly. I have been critical of the choices this company has made since its founder, Monty Davis, was forced out and C. Michael Wright became artistic director, the guy in charge of choosing what gets put on. Davis liked two things: George Bernard Shaw and edgy theater. He used to stage his “Shaw Festival” every spring, so Milwaukeeans were treated to plays like Arms and the Man, and Superman, Major Barbara. He also staged edgy plays like Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune, Hedwig’s Angry Inch, and Dirty Blonde.
Lord, how I miss Monty Davis. But yesterday afternoon, I didn’t miss him. Yesterday afternoon, I saw a superb performance of a superb play.
Acting, direction, and scenery were all spot on. Humor, to be sure. Delight? You bet. Rich Pendzich plays Max, a general factotum and wannabe singer for the Cleveland Opera Company, who is in love with Maggie, well played by Hannah Klapperich-Mueller. She’s the daughter of the company’s managing director, Saunders, played by Drew Brhel in a bravado performance. Maggie is one of those girls in love with love, one of those girls who thinks she will know when she encounters true love because she will hear bells ring when her lips touch her lover’s lips.
As the play opens, Max is in dutch with Saunders because he has been sent to pick up Tito Merelli (played to the nines by Steven M. Koehler), an Italian tenor who is coming to Cleveland for a single performance of Otelo. Trouble is, Max can’t find Tito.
As these things go, Tito shows up at last, scant hours before the performance is to begin, but Tito is in trouble with Maria, his wife (played charmingly by Rana Roman). Tito has been—how you say?—eyeing other women and to prove to Maria that he loves her, he takes four Phenobarbital. When Max slips him a few more to try to get him to sleep, Tito falls into a coma, which Max and his boss mistake for death.
And this is where the fun begins. Before passing out, Tito has given Max singing lessons, and Max, using one of Tito’s costumes, sings Tito’s part to rave reviews. Tito resurrects, of course, and tries to go to the theater—what trouper wouldn’t, but gets in trouble with the police.
Maggie, thinking Max is Tito, surrenders her virtue to him, despite the manipulations of the vamp Diana, very sexily played by Alexandra Benesho.
In the end, all comes right. Maria and Tito are reconciled, Maggie realizes what she has in Max, and Max’s career is launched. Happy, happy, joy, joy.