"Lend Me A Tenor" at the Music Box, March 13, 2010
I have always thought Stanley Tucci was a very smart actor. Making his directorial debut on Broadway, he has only proved that theory by reviving a war horse of a play, Ken Ludwig's Lend Me A Tenor. On top of that he has assembled, for the most part, a most excellent and talented cast to carry out this farce of egos and ambitions courtesy of the fictional Cleveland Grand Opera.
World-class opera star, Tito Merelli (Anthony LaPaglia) has arrived to sing the title role in Verdi's Otello for the company, with his wife Maria (Jan Maxwell) in tow. CGO assistant Max (Justin Bartha) is under strict orders from general manager Saunders (Tony Shalhoub) to keep Signor Merelli from wine and women until after the performance. The entire city is eager to meet the star, including Max's sometime girlfriend and Saunders' niece, Maggie (Mary Catherine Garrison), her aunt Julia (Brooke Adams), company soprano Diana (Jennifer Laura Thompson) and the Bellhop (Jay Klaitz). As befitting a farce, mistaken identity, false deaths and bed-hopping all follow in due course. All that's missing are the Marx Brothers, whom surely must have been in Mr. Ludwig's mind as he wrote.
Beyond intelligent selection of material and cast, Mr. Tucci guides this production with a sure, if sometimes heavy, hand. Not to discount, by any means, this is a farce, for which a heavy hand is often called. I'm sure this was also necessary in the rehearsal room, combining the skills and talents of the likes of Messrs. LaPaglia and Shalhoub and Ms. Maxwell. Each bring larger than life attention to their respective roles. Mr. Shalhoub's Saunders simmers continually with occasional boil overs as the story unfolds. His intensity is masterful. Mr. LaPaglia isn't a world-class tenor, but the singing moments are few and far between. His Tito, however, is a world-class spoiled star, red-faced and alternately barking and pouting. Ms. Maxwell's Maria sweeps in and snubs all around.
As Max, Mr. Bartha also doesn't quite have the vocal chops purported to his role, but he's nonetheless endearing and adorable. Ms. Garrison has managed to get herself cast in another period piece. This time, however, she is a bit more serviceable though still not quite on the mark. Ms. Adam (Mrs. Shalhoub) comes off a bit young for her role and doesn't get all that much to do, other than point out that Mr. Ludwig is a Mel Brooks fan. "How do I look?" she asks Saunders. "Like the Chrysler Building" he replies.
Mr. Tucci wraps up the evening with a Buster Keaton style pantomime that retells the whole story.
John Lee Beatty's hotel suite set is gorgeous, with all the requisite doors to accommodate the farce. Kenneth Posner's lights complement nicely. Martin Pakledinaz' costumes are equally gorgeous.
It's a great evening, and one I recommend.