Lend Me a Tenor at the Washington County Playhouse is a rollercoaster ride of laughs. Director Laura Martin brings this well-known Ken Ludwig farce to life with the help of a talented cast of versatile actors.
The opera world is abuzz when the Cleveland Opera Company signs world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli to play Otello in the fall of 1934. After arriving late, and then inadvertently taking a large dose of tranquilizers mixed with wine, he passes out. When he is discovered by the excitable opera manager and his naïve assistant, Max, they believe the divo is dead and come up with a plan for the assistant, who is an aspiring tenor himself, to dress in Tito’s costume and convince the opera community that he is the famous performer. Add the tenor’s jealous wife, his ambitious leading lady, Max’s young, star-struck girlfriend who is looking for a romantic fling, the flirtatious head of the opera guild, and a bellhop all vying for the attention of the star, you have an evening of laughs awaiting you.
At the heart of this production is Ryan Perry who plays Max, the gullible and generally easily-manipulated assistant to Saunders, the opera manager. Perry plays this role with ease as he tries to make sure the singer gets some rest and is able to get to the theatre on time for his performance while dealing with a group of fans, determined to meet the star. When the lanky Perry dons the makeup and costume of the larger-than-life character, Otello, comedy ensues as he tries to maintain control of the situation while losing control of his own life.
Bringing the characters of Tito and his jealous wife, Maria, to life were veteran actors Nate Ladow and Allison Banzhoff. These two portrayed the stereotypical, hot-tempered Italian couple to perfection while never losing their accents. Banzhoff delightfully stole every scene in which she appeared with her portrayal of the jealous wife who can no longer take her husband’s extramarital dalliances. You could tell she is quite comfortable with farces and brought this character to life with ease. The moment she walked into her first scene, you knew you were in for a lot a belly laughs. Ladow was wonderful as the passionate divo who loves women, wine, and rest and is crushed when he learns his wife has left him.
Shawn Martin as Saunders, the opera manager, is the master of communicating with facial expressions. He could say more with a look or eye-movement than many people can say with words. He brought to mind one of my favorite John Wayne quotes: “One look that works is better than twenty lines of dialogue.”
Johnna Leary was sweet in her role of Maggie, Max’ girlfriend and Saunders’ daughter, who feels she has not experienced life and wishes for one romantic fling before agreeing to marry Max and decides Tito is just the lothario to give her the excitement she is looking for.
Shannen Banzhoff played the role of sexy soprano well as she tries to seduce Tito in order to get him to give her a recommendation with the Metropolitan Opera.
Joan Crooks was wonderful as Julia, the anxious head of the Opera Guild and flirtatious fan of Tito who wants to comfort him since his wife deserted him.
A truly stand-out performance was given by Scott Ruble as the Bellhop. His performance of the over-the-top fan who just wants to meet the star and get his picture and autograph are worth the price of admission alone. I look forward to seeing him in other shows in the area in the future.
The art-deco set designed by Jim and Sue Eckel served as a beautiful backdrop to all the insanity onstage. Costumes by Barbie and Lily Gross were period accurate and complimented the performers beautifully.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Lend Me A Tenor plays through July 25, 2015 at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater – 44 North Potomac Street, in Hagerstown, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 739-7469.