Review: Lending a tenor, down the shore
Attention all Philadelphians down the Shore and all Shore people down there, too: If you've never enjoyed the silly pleasures of "Lend Me a Tenor," the popular American farce, you'll get your laughs at the professional Cape May Stage production that just opened.
If you have seen "Lend Me a Tenor," which was revived on Broadway a few seasons back and also just finished a run at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, you might find the laughs at Cape May a littler less hardy than you remember from previous experience. Ken Ludwig's 1986 farce about the disastrous visit of a world-famous Italian tenor to an opera company in Cleveland was written to be far over the top. Cape May Stage's version, directed by Chris Dolman, reaches the top but only occasionally makes the leap.
That appeared to be enough for the audience at last week's opening, when I attended, so of course the production works. Am maybe I'm jaded – it hasn't been a month since I saw the Ambler production, which was appropriately wild and milked every possible laugh line.
Several laugh lines in Cape May, I noticed, were treated like throw-aways. This became obvious when early on, a conversation between a young man and the gal he's pursuing got no reaction. She accuses him of lacking romance. He's taken aback and tosses out an example: What about that time we went sailing in the moonlight in the wee hours? That's because you lost the oars, she says. I've never seen a production where that line isn't sure-fire, until now.
Things pretty much pump along that way – mildly amusing – until the versatile actor Scott Greer takes the stage as the thoroughly irresponsible Italian tenor. Greer, who works mostly on Philadelphia stages and has a way of turning and audience's mood just by looking out from the stage, is the show's savior, along with Carey Van Driest, who plays his fiery wife. When the two start arguing and the love-hate quality of their relationship becomes obvious, this "Lend Me a Tenor" shows sparks. At that point, it gets better and better.
Part of what tamps it down – and keep in mind, it's good production that needs to be more than just solid to work for us "Lend Me a Tenor" veterans – is the character interpretations. A couple are off-key, not the real people we need to believe in order to make a farce work: the diva (Stacey Harris, looking every bit the role) who uses the tenor as the ladder to a better career and comes on here so hot, they may as well attach a steam machine to the hem of her costume (Michele Sinacore's spot-on costume design); the bellhop (Jeremy Konopka) who's insistent on meeting the celebrity and is played here with an unnecessary whiff of femme that overshadows the character's snideness.
Roy Steinberg, Cape May Stage's artistic director, comes off nicely as the flustered opera company director and so does his real-life wife, Marlena Lustik, as an opera board chief. David Arkema and Aly Viny are sweet as the young love interests. It's up to Arkema to carry much of the show as he turns from hangdog to hero and he does so agreeably, especially when the play's romping begins on the well-designed hotel set, by Robert J Martin. In the end, though, this version of "Lend Me a Tenor" belongs to Scott Greer, whose wonderfully accented, volatile Italian tenor nails the show, and maybe fills the cannoli, too.
"Lend Me a Tenor" runs through July 26 at Cape May Stage, 405 Lafayette St., Cape May, N.J. 609-884-1341 or www.capemaystage.org.
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