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Lend Me A Tenor

a Comedy
by Ken Ludwig

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 495

SHOWING : July 26, 2002 - August 25, 2002



World famous tenor Tito Merelli is just the thing to put the Cleveland Opera House on the map, but when he becomes incapacitated, things go from bad to worse. With delightful characters that include a surly general manager, a jealous wife and an aspiring opera starlet, the play becomes a door-slamming, dress-dropping farce with mistaken identities, mischievous misunderstandings and compromising positions.

Cast Freddie Ashley
Director Freddie Ashley
Stage Manager Christy Mauldin
Saunders Daniel Burnley
Diana Barbara Cole Uterhardt
Maggie Melanie Colvert
Julia Patti French
Max Brandon Odell
Tito Anthony Rodriguez
Bellhop Geoff Uterhardt
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Surprise Party
by Mama Alma
Friday, August 23, 2002
Take two tenors (one amateur, one pro), two dames (one amateur, one, uh, pro), and two identical Otello costumes, mix with a little Chianti and garnish generously with phenobarbital, and hilarity, as they say, will ensue. Normally I try to get my reviews up as soon as possible after I see a play, at least before the AJC review comes out, because, often as not, the AJC is 180° wrong. But Wendell Brock actually hit a triple with his review of Aurora Theatre’s “Lend Me a Tenor,” calling it a “farce to be reckoned with” (AJC, August 9, 2002, p. Q5). If you like your doors slammed, your dresses dropped and your entendres doubled, this is the show for you.

The true standout in this production is Artistic and Producing Director Anthony Rodriguez. Tony’s ebullient personal style is the perfect underpinning for his bravura performance as “Il Stupendo” Tito Merelli, the world’s most famous opera tenor, who has agreed to grace the city of Cleveland with his presence. Unfortunately, His Grace’s presence comes complete with jealous wife, and as it turns out, she has reason to be jealous: seems Tito is interested in more than arias.

Some of the best moments are between Tito and his Maria (Jennifer Courtade). I couldn’t have been more impressed if they’d argued in Italian. As it was, their arguments were inflamed, overlapping and brilliantly engaging. Equally engaging was their makeup scene, as Tito tries to entice Maria with dreams of a relaxing vacation of sea, sand, sun and sex. You could see the proud resolve of his Roman princess start to melt, and there hasn’t been a sexier “close the door” since Leslie Ann Warren said it to Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria. You just know something naughty is afoot.

Upping the naughtiness factor are the two dames, the charmingly innocent Maggie, played with sweet conviction by Melanie Colvert, and the fiercely determined Diana, played with stunning focus by Barbara Cole. Maggie is such a naif, she actually does a little curtsey when Tito tells her she is beautiful. Diana is the true huntress, not caring if she has to “do business with a kangaroo” if it gets the job done. The play turns on a case of mistaken identity, but in one of the more hilarious scenes, it’s actually Diana’s identity that is in question. It’s one of those truly wonderful moments in live theater, when you’re sure you know what the premise is, but the tables get turned.

Geoff Uterhardt has a very funny role as a bellhop, and he pulls out all the stops, injecting a frenetic energy into his scenes as a kind of adrenalized Chevy Chase. Daniel Burnley and Patti French provide just the right amount of ballast as the opera company’s manager and opera guild’s president. I’ve spoken before on this site about French’s chenille robe of a voice, sexy as all get out. She works especially well sparring with Burnley (who displays a comic edginess I hadn’t seen in him before), and later switches to a seductive purr when she asks Tito if there’s anything, just anything at all, she can do for him.

A lot of this play is timing, and kudos to director Freddie Ashley for getting it right. In one howlingly wonderful display (which got a show stopping round of applause the night I was there) Burnley runs his assistant Max (played amiably enough by Brandon O’Dell) through their strategy for keeping Tito out of harm’s way. Max is there to run the numbers, so to speak, to make it possible for the star that is Tito to shine. Max is a slight, shy, Barney Fife of a man, and it’s easy to see why his girlfriend (the chaste Maggie) has been refusing his entreaties to “fling” with him for the past three years. He’s a lightweight, while Tito, as embodied by Rodriguez, is the raw sexual power, energy and ego that is an operatic hero.

A special word needs to be said about O’Dell. He’s the quintessential Max, squinting behind his wire rims, Adam’s apple bobbing, stuttering, hesitant. He does have a crystalline (what my nanna would have called Irish) tenor, which blends beautifully with Rodriguez’ more robust voice in their duet. [I’ve never been a big fan of opera, but I hummed their piece nonstop for a week. It is amazing.] This is a play about mistaken identities, so you know that at some point O’Dell will put on the Otello costume and Max will get mistaken for the opera star, a la Danny Kaye in any number of movies. And this being live theater, you know you’re going to suspend your “disbelief” that anyone in their right mind would believe this negligible pipsqueak could be Il Stupendo. The play is so brilliantly funny at this point, though, that you’ll enter right into the spirit of make believe.

An odd thing happens though when O’Dell puts on the disguise. Off come the glasses. The dark makeup contrasts startlingly with the blue of his eyes, the wig and beard give his face breadth, and by golly, he turns into a hero right in front of your eyes. It’s a remarkable transformation, all the more remarkable because it happens without the aid of any of the trick photography or “how the hell did they do that?” special effects that make us doubt what we see on film. In these days of flying Spider Men, digitally animated Jedi Knights and cave trolls, it’s difficult to believe that one actor can have such a profound effect using only his body and his voice, but that’s why I love actors. They're full of surprises.

Tony Rodriguez wears big shoes in this production. Fortunately, Brandon O’Dell is a perfect fit.


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