It’s a thunderous orgasm of insane comedy rupturing up from the seasoned talent put on display through The Heritage Players Lend Me a Tenor. With Director Damien Gibbons at the helm, the hysterical words of Ken Ludwig come to life like you’ve never seen them before. With a cast of well-versed actors whose characters are defined by their affectations and vast range of physical expressions, this show keeps you in stitches from the opening scene to the final moments. It’s a game of mistaken identities, panicky situations, and the extremes people will go to in order to cover up a dead body. With oversexed women, a gorgeous Italian opera singer and his very angry wife, and a few mistakes this show captivates the audience with every funny line that lands.
The thing that worked best about this show is the flawless comedic timing. Director Damien Gibbons work is clearly shown in this aspect. Every line delivered lands with impeccable timing, making those witty one-liners that much wittier and the zappy zingers that much more poignant. You didn’t miss a joke even the little ones weren’t overlooked because the focus on the timing was so intense. And despite this intense focus nothing felt contrived. There was honesty behind these comic interactions that felt raw and exposed, especially during scenes with Saunders (John Sheldon) where he was looking for new physical ways to assert his anger. The same can be said of the Bellhop (Christopher Carothers) who would shift his head onto another player’s shoulder or cast a bemusing facial expression to someone speaking at exactly the right moment. These little moments of flawless execution really enhanced the comedy of this show and provided a pristine vessel for the hilarious intention of Ludwig’s words.
And hats off to Costume Designer Robin Trenner who not only helped transport the audience back to 1934 with her vintage styling but also added another layer of comedy to this production. The two most noticeable and absurd costumes were fitted on supporting actresses and it not only further enhanced their performance, giving them a look to live up to, but it also really made them stand out on the stage, making their entrances extremely dramatic. Maria (Patricia Morgan) enters the hotel room with her famous singer husband and the audience holds their laughter because she looks formidable despite the ostentatious navy blue suit offset by a bright red enormous hairpiece complete with matching gloves and heels. This bizarre really defines her appearance and you won’t be taking your eyes off her whenever she appears. Trenner also does a dazzling job of converting textual descriptions to actualizations in Julia (Heidi Toll)’s outfit. Saunders (John Sheldon) accuses her of looking like the Chrysler Building and Trenner delivers for Toll with a blinding silver sparkle dress, a shining white gem neck strap, huge dripping diamond earrings and a shiny silver tiara. You must see her to believe it. You will not be disappointed with Trenner’s efforts in costuming this show.
The chemistry among the cast is wildly infectious. They bubble and boil for moments of anger, and find deep seeded intimacy for those lusty stolen moments behind closed doors. Each individual actor brings something unique to the production through the vehicle of their quirky character and when they all come together it is an astonishing hysterical adventure. This production depends heavily upon the physical reactions, facial expressions, and precise vocalization of the actors to execute laugh after laugh for the audience and there is not a single person among the cast who does not deliver this extremely high standard. The audience sees this executed largely in group scenes, especially toward the end of the show with two Otello characters on the stage.
The best expression of character definition comes from Max (Stephen Michael Deininger.) His performance as the nervous underling is beyond hysterical. Deininger starts sweating and shaking, his whole face goes red as he stumbles, stammers, and shudders his way through extremely tense scenes. He practically hyperventilates when trying to express what has happened to Tito (Daniel Douek) to Saunders (John Sheldon.) But he’s not just a nervous Nelly. Deininger is a thrice divided character; displayed when he exchanges pointed barbs with Maggie (Erin Stauder) letting his jealousy and frustration drive each zinger. He also plays a confident cavalier Otello with a fake Italian accent that is the perfect blend of faked and accented.
Deininger’s counterpart to his physical expressions comes from the Italian Opera star Tito Merelli (Daniel Douek.) His facial reactions are nothing short of brilliant as he uses these to express most of what is happening. With wide popping eyes and a fast range of contorted faces one might compare him to the talented Hank Azaria. Douek grovels with desperation when pleading with his wife Maria (Patricia Morgan.) The couple has a tempestuous relationship of constant shouting, Morgan in her very prima donna sounding Italian accent and Douek with his very suave stereotypical Italian sound. Douek’s interactions with all the women in the show really create a strong dynamic to define his flirtatious character.
Diana (Ashley Gerhardt) is a swanky snob from the moment she sets foot in the apartment. Her oily voice hints at the fact that she’s a girl who always gets what she wants, and her sexual sauciness oozes all over Douek late in act II. This is an almost violent contrast from Maggie (Erin Stauder)’s sexual innocence when confronting Otello (which is really at this point Max (Deininger) in disguise.) The two women almost explode at each other with catty claws ready to fly when they think that each is the other woman, but they come together with an almost sisterly like bond when trying to help each other back into their dresses.
The acting is top notch, each character a gem in this treasure trove of hilarity. And there’s even a huge beautiful tenor belting from backstage, lent by Jim Gerhardt, to match Max (Deininger)’s beautiful operatic range.
So lend yourself a favor and get out to this performance of Lend Me a Tenor before you miss this golden opportunity.
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes, with one intermission.
Lend Me a Tenor plays through April 1, 2012 at The Heritage Players at The Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Center – 55 Wade Avenue, in Catonsville, MD. Tickets are available at the door (cash only), or for purchase online.