MILLBURN, NJ – You’ll never have a dull moment with “Lend Me a Tenor” at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
That’s because this production, directed with free-for-all verve by Don Stephenson
, doesn’t spare the foolishness in this farce of slamming doors, mistaken identities and characters played to the hilt by superb actors. Not everyone is a fan of farce, and I’ve seen some that don’t work at all. You really need a talented cast and director for the split-second timing to keep it all as light as a souffle.
The plot centers on a gala opening at a Cleveland Opera House, where the famous Italian tenor Tito Merelli is scheduled to appear. But with mishaps of too many pills and too much alcohol, Tito is soon sound asleep. The nebish "go-fer" who has dreams of singing in the opera, steps into the role of "Otello." Needless to say, much mayhem ensues, as the two Otellos appear and disappear.
David Josenberg as Max has just the right nerdish demeanor to make you root for his transformation into a major star. He is madly in love with the fetching Maggie, charmingly played by Jill Paice. Max’s boss and Maggie’s uncle, Saunders, is excitable and frustrated when he thinks his star singer is missing (or worse). Michael Kostroff pulls out all the stops in his blustery performance.
The opera singer, Tito, is played by John Treacy Egan is a suitably bravado performance. His suspicious wife, Maria, is the petite Judy Blazer, but thoroughly tough on any female threat. And all the females seem to be falling for this Don Juan (or who they think is the "real" Otello.) Donna English is Diana, ensconced in a silvery dress and tiara, which Saunders tells her "‘looks like the Chrysler building." The leading lady (Desdemona), Julia, is played by Nancy Johnston. Mark Price is the bellhop who maneuvers his way into the action whenever possible.
Split-second timing is what makes this show work and every actor knows how to play his or her part to the hilt. Costumes by Wade Laboissonniere are superb, not just the "Chrysler" dress, but Maggie’s flowing, flowered gown. When Maggie and Julia both strip to their panties, it’s a fast change that can only work if those costumes do what they should. The two Otellos are also properly bedecked.
John Lee Beatty’s set design is an elegant suite of living room, bedroom and plenty of doors to closet, bath, etc. Lighting by Stephen Terry and music by Tom Helm enhance the production. For a drab, dreary time of year, this show is a terrific antidote and full of surprises.
“Lend Me a Tenor” continues at Paper Mill Playhouse, located at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, through March 10. For tickets, call 973-379-3717.