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NY Theater Reviews

Anthony LaPaglia and Jan Maxwell/ Ph: Joan Marcus



The cast is fantastic; the story and the direction, on the other hand, are a bit pitchy.

The woman behind me at The Music Box Theatre was snorting with laughter at the revival of Ken Ludwig’s farce, Lend Me A Tenor, first seen on Broadway in 1989.
At various points in the show I looked back at this remarkably enthusiastic audience member, then back up at the stage where Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia and Shalhoub’s real life wife Brooke Adams were holding forth, then behind me where the chortling was growing ever louder, then back up at the stage.
It just didn’t compute. What was I missing? A good time.
Perhaps I was seeing the play at a disadvantage. I don’t love farce. (My fault, I fear.) Noises Off (with the exception of the delectable Katie Finneran) and the recent revival of Boeing Boeing (with the exception of the sublime Mark Rylance) left me cold. And as the mother of a few teenagers I’ve had more than my fill of slamming doors.
About those doors: They really should have their own billing here. There are five of them in the hotel suite where Tenor is set, and they are banged with increasing frequency and vigor as the frantic activity on stage grinds on.
It’s 1934, and the great Italian tenor Tito Merelli (LaPaglia), his long-suffering wife (Jan Maxwell) in tow, has come to Cleveland to perform the title role in Othello at a gala fundraiser.
Sauders (Tony Shalhoub, indispensable), the excitable, dyspeptic impresario in charge of the event, charges his diffident young factotum Max (Justin Bartha), himself an aspiring singer, with getting Tito to the theater on time. When the great star, known to fans as Il Stupendo, becomes indisposed – the condition appears to be permanent – Saunders prevails on the reluctant Max to go on in his place.
The evening is a triumph, which says quite a lot about the judgment, taste and hearing of the Cleveland swells. That such a thing passes without comment says quite a lot about the play.
The start of the second act brings both the dread realization that we’ve got a long haul before the loose ends are secured—and a complication: Il Stupendo is up from his stupor. Suddenly there are two Titos on the loose—both in black face and priapic wig, both looking like escapees from an Eddie Murphy “Little Rascals” send-up on “Saturday Night Live.” Identities are confused, intentions misapprehended, suggestive dialogue misinterpreted, clothes shed, sexual favors exchanged. Cue the sound of fireworks. Yup, fireworks.
The hard-working actors, chief among them Shalhoub, who does a priceless bit involving a desk chair; the very good Ms. Maxwell Jay Klaitz as an aria-singing bellhop who seems straight out of a Phillip Morris ad; and Mary Catherine Garrison as the ingénue get no support from the witless script and not much from the dutiful, literal-minded direction of Stanley Tucci (see: fireworks). It is very heavy on jumping and humping.