Silliness and serious singing “Lend Me A Tenor” by the Shelburne Players

review by Lin Stone

I suspect that the Shelburne Players staging last Friday evening of Ken Ludwig’s madcap “Lend Me A Tenor” would have had my Swedish grandmother (she loved the opera, foolishness, and farce) hiccupping belly laughs throughout the entire second act as she subdued her guffaws enough to hear the two tenors sing. The Players’ well-cast and exaggerated characters pulled off this stylized humor with aplomb. I expected that this company of players could tackle whatever they chose; however, what I didn’t anticipate was that the comedy of tenors could sing so well. Matthew Winston and Clem Turmel really could sing.

Farce typically builds on improbable situational humor and it doesn’t spend much energy on character development, but nonetheless the casting of Lend Me a Tenor was impeccable. Clem Turmel, played the lead Italian tenor, Tito Morelli, a frequently besotted opera star prone to philander. Turmel was a great physical comic who also mustered a believably woozy Italian accent and his singing voice was strong, clear, and true – unlike his morally wobbly character. His hot-blooded and tempestuous marriage to the fiery Maria, played by Jennifer Stearns, offers up some of the show’s terrific one-liners such as, “My children are agonna looka like bellhops.”

Tito’s liaison with the opera’s aspiring and star-struck soprano, Diana, played by Alise Certa, was as humorous as she was voluptuous in her performance and scarlet negligee.

Counterpoint to Tito’s passionate, muddled machismo was Matthew Winston’s Max, a hapless, timid, and ineffectual character kitted out in tidy suit and clownish spectacles. Rachel Newman plays Maggie, the ingénue and Max’s unconvinced fiancé. She longs for passion and excitement and finds it not in her fiancé Max, but in the Italian tenor. Or so she thinks. It is only after insecure Winston lets loose a resonating and confident note in a drunken duet with Tito in the first act, that you guess the plot, and who wins the girl (as well as the audience) by the second. Shelburne’s own John Hasen plays Saunders, the Cleveland Opera’s beleaguered and self-centered producer. Hasen’s performance was flawless. His wide-eyed, raised-eyebrows looks of panic, his hale-fellow-well-met bonhomie would change as quickly as his circumstances, his flexible moral compass, and his blood pressure.

Anne Liske played the high-society patron of the arts and opera buff Julia. Liske played the part with grace and an understated twinkle of humor that matched the sparkle of her tiara. And Michael Farnsworth played a persistent and gangly fool, Tito’s fan, and the hotel bellhop with limbs as flailing as his ill-timed adoration.

In the end, the cast of this play deftly carries you back to Cleveland in 1934, and rest assured, even if you care nothing for opera, with the Shelburne Players’ version of “Lend Me A Tenor,” you are likely to have a riotous good time with its many madcap adventures, door slamming, double entendres, and mistaken identities. It was exuberant, very silly, great fun, and a most enjoyable show. Not to mention that the two men – the tenors – really can sing.

Performances at Shelburne Town Center stage , 5420 Shelburne Road in Shelburne on April 26, 27 and 28 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15/ $10 seniors and students, and can be purchased in advance at Shelburne Supermarket, or call 985-0780.  All tickets are $10 on Thursday, April 26. To reserve tickets on line and for more information go to www.shelburneplayers.com.

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