If laughter is the best medicine, then the current production at the Paper Mill Playhouse, in Millburn, provides a month's supply in just one viewing. The play is Ken Ludwig's "Lend Me A Tenor." But first, please note that one of the most difficult forms of theatre to execute well is farce. It requires the audience to accept and not question illogical or outlandish situations. A good example would be a Marx Brothers movie..great fun but far from reality.... using buffoonery and horseplay and ludicrously improbable situations. A perfect example is Ken Ludwig's mad-cap comedy "Lend Me A Tenor." Note that despite the title it is not a musical nor has anything to do with a British ten pound note.
How good of a farce is it? It is considered by many to be one of the greatest American farces ever written. Judging by the almost constant waves of laughter from the opening night audience yesterday and the standing ovation to the marvelous cast... the audience agreed.
The entire play takes place one day in a Cleveland hotel suite in 1934. The Cleveland Grand Opera Company is presenting a special performance of "Othello" as their Gala season opener with the world famous Tito Morelli, “Il Stupendo”, the greatest tenor of the day. Morelli (John Treacy Egan ) arrives with his very jealous wife Maria (Judith Blazer) and is greeted by the General Manager (Michael Kostroff) and his assistant Max (David Josefsberg) who are planning to usher him to the rehearsal. Morelli refuses to attend the rehearsal. He is ill from overeating (and drinking ?) and heads to the bedroom for a nap.
What follows is a hilarious series of wild mix-ups involving the General Manager's naive daughter Maggie (Jill Paice) who's seeking a "fling" with the tenor, the Opera Company's over-sexed leading soprano, Diana (Donna English) who sees an intimate bedroom liaison with the tenor as her opportunity to advance to the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, the Opera Company's board president Julia (Nancy Johnston) also make amorous moves toward the great tenor, the star-struck bellhop (Mark Price) who hopes to audition for the famous singer, and then there is young Max, madly in love with Maggie, who also aspires to be an opera singer and has learned the part of 'Othello' from observing the rehearsals.
And, yes, he is the nervous amateur who saves the day by going on in Morelli's place without anyone realizing that it is not Morelli! This is the biggest stretch of logic in the play since Tito Morelli and Max both in Othello costumes with blackface and wigs have wildly different body types and, of course, voices....but, (remember it's a farce)...no one notices and this was clearly author Ken Ludwig's design. A surprise guest at opening night was Ken Ludwig. He joined the cast for a bow and a standing ovation.
Not wishing to include any spoilers...you'll have to see this exceptionally funny romp to find out why Morelli did not perform, at least as a singer....remember the soprano Diana? Does Max get Maggie, in more ways than one? Don Stephenson the director of this mad-cap comedy who is highly experienced in this form, e.g."Noises Off" and "39 Steps," deserves his own standing ovation.
As does each member of the cast, all Broadway veterans: David Josefsberg, who lives in South Orange and blessed with an impressive voice, is simply wonderful as the nerdy, but 'day saver' Max; Jill Paice as Maggie is the lovely, but highly naive daughter of the General Manager and Max' almost fiancee- Maggie believes she needs a fling before saying yes; Michael Kostroff is a true master of comedy timing who could not be more perfect as the General Manager of the opera company. Paper Mill Playhouse regulars will remember him from his fine performance in 2010's "Les Miserables" as Thenardier; Mark Price is the outrageous bellhop; Nancy Johnston as Julia, has the proper "upper crust" attitude and looks absolutely regal in an art-deco style dress described as looking like the Chrysler Building, but with an appetite for celebrity tenors; Donna English, of Montclair, as the local opera singer ready to advance her career via the casting couch, in this case, the bed.
Finally, the fabulous Morelli's; Judith Blaser as Tito's wife Maria gets a laugh with almost every line and expression, Maria's role in life is to keep Tito away from just two things....women and wine....song as a tenor he must have; John Treacy Egan is a superior singer who positively excels as Tito Morelli, the world class singer and womanizer.
Also receiving a round of applause (as the first act curtain rose) was the grand Plaza Hotel style two room hotel suite by scenic designer John Lee Beatty. Other key production credits: Wade Laboissonniere costume design, Matt Kraus sound design, Cookie Jordan hair and makeup, Tom Helm music coordinator, and Gary Mickelson production stage manager.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio February 17, 2013
Lend Me a Tenor will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance Schedule: Wednesday at 7:30 p.m, Thursday at 1:30 p.m and 7:30 p.m, Friday at 8:00 p.m, Saturday at 1:30 p.m and 8:00 p.m and Sunday at 1:30 p.m and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets range from $26 to $97. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.papermill.org.