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March 28, 2000

“Lend me a Tenor” Hits High Note

A Review by Pat and Ernie Pinson

Could this be the ultimate opera spoof? Joe Jefferson Players played it to the hilt on St. Patrick’s Day with Italian tenors in Moorish garb in the slapstick comedy “Lend Me A Tenor.” Some of the resident “repertory company” were cast along with some newcomers to make this zany comedy come to life. And the set was a terrific Art Deco lavender with gold accents that would make any designer glad. Divided into two rooms where even the cut away wall fit the decor, it formed a perfect backdrop for this play of mixed up pairs. The subtleties were equal to the slapstick in gesture, costume, and movement.

Farce is notoriously hard to make come off, but Director Tom Gray had thought of every subtlety -- as had the set designers and costumers. There were tassels and fringe, camisoles and colors that fit. The partially applied face paint of the Otellos was in keeping with the play on reality, and its smudging off onto the girls provided the appropriate taint or token at the end. Gray is especially good in blocking, creating sight lines that are always clear. The timing was right on, and the mirrored actions were right (especially the mirror image of the two tenors leaning against the door).

The play started a little cool - a product of good rehearsals but a little slow to hit its stride, but Act Two made up for that and ended in a blaze of burlesque. The actors warmed to the flow, and the back-to-back double entendres and misunderstandings moved at a rollicking pace. Two Otellos in identical ridiculous costumes, two lithe ladies in black and white, and two domineering middle-aged magnates created one merry mix-up.

The play revolves around pairs -- Tito was an overly confident and slightly callous Italian tenor -- and Max, an American young man, was as cautious and insecure as they come. Their character reversal by the end of the play was made even funnier by their casting -- Max (Christopher Spencer) who is tall and skinny and looks like he walked out of a Norman Rockwell illustration, was the pretender who became the hero (sort of), while Tito (Jacob Turk) has the more typical Italian tenor build (a little rounder) with round vocal tones, and entered full of heroic machismo which fell apart when his pretense was discovered.

The two lithe ladies played well off of each other, too. Danielle Juzan’s diva side didn’t quite come up to her seductress side, but the seductress equaled the innocent in Angelique Turk. The grand dame of the Grand Opera Guild, Sue Hawkins, developed the persona of the available admirer on into the play, but acted a little slinkier than she let herself look by not using that feather boa to its fullest. And the mercurial General Manager, Don Bloom, strode throughout with blustery aplomb, and his note reading in the death scene was pure Mel Brooks.

Bravos go to two minor characters: Allyson McNeill, a newcomer to the stage, was Maria, the very “Italiano” wife whose broad accent and matching mad gestures were consistent and convincing -- we hope to see more of her! and Cannon Tucker, the Bellhop, often stole the show when on stage with his savoir faire and fair hair in the midst of the darker Italians. Bravos also go to the tenors for actually singing -- and singing very well, too!

The Keystone Cops recap of the play as a curtain call brought the house to its feet with a roar of applause and cheers. Bravissimo Tenore!


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