by Michael Meigs
Ken Ludwig's Lend Me A Tenor is one of those 'sure fire' inventions beloved of theatre companies across the world. Since the 1986 debut in London it has been translated into 16 languages and produced in 25 countries.
The Gaslight Baker Theatre is currently staging a vivid and funny production of this farce, a fable of mistaken identities, dizzy romance and worldly sophistication. Aspiring timidity meets bravado, and bigger-than-life Italian passions transform smaller-than-life American provincials. The year is 1934. Great Itallian tenor Tito Morelli is arriving for a single guest performance of Verdi's Otello at the improbable Cleveland Grand Opera Company, and he's about to overwhelm the locals, the society ladies, the cast of the opera, and above all, our ingénue Maggie (Francine Olguin) and her hapless would-be suitor Max.
Max (David Young) has been appointed by Cleveland's growling opera impresario Saunders (Donald Owen) to keep the visiting star sober, satisfied and out of trouble -- an impossible job, even though Morelli is accompanied by his glamorously shrewish wife Maria (Candice Carr).
This is a plot that runs like clockwork, complete with romance, jealousy, officiousness, quarrels, disguises, a pertly intrusive servant (Chris Schnaible as the starstruck bellhop), slamming doors and a potent potion that knocks out the Great Man and gives the Little Man the opportunity to triumph unrecognized as his substitute. Yes, Steve Lawson as Morelli and Dave Young as Max are of different heights and builds, but with the magic of the costuming and makeup of stage disguise, predictably, no one can tell them apart!
Now, is that likely? No! Is it even probable? No! And do we care? Double no!
These two familiar Lockhart stalwarts make us root for Max and give us good reason to like Tito Morelli. They even demonstrate singing voices that are passably good enough to convince us in this make-believe world that either could go out there and give Verdi what-for. Young may overdo Max's nervous tics a bit, especially at the opening, and Lawson's Italian-a accent isn't as consistent as that of Maria (Candice Carr), but we hang on every surprise turn in the plot. Director Todd Martin sets a fine fast clip to this action and displays a keen understanding for the pictorial impact in farce of clever movement and positioning of his actors.