new musical from America asks the
theatrical question Why?
Theatre Summer 2011
Why turn a perfectly adequate stage farce
into a musical when the songs add nothing and frequently get in the
way of the comedy? Lend Me A Tenor is not a disaster, but all its
virtues come from the original play.
Ken Ludwig's 1986 play is an
unassuming little farce about a provincial opera company – the very
concept of the Cleveland Grand Opera is a joke, like Patrick Barlow's
National Theatre of Brent – putting on Verdi's Otello.
big-name visiting guest star accidentally takes an overdose of
sleeping pills, a local singer has to put on the costume and
blackface and pretend to be him.
He pulls it off, but then has to
deal with opera groupies including his own girlfriend, and with the
complications that arise when the star wakes up and groggily gets
into costume and makeup himself. At one point there are actually
three Otellos rushing about, never quite running into each other but
repeatedly being mistaken for each other.
It is of the essence of
farce that things happen at such a fast pace, and with mounting
hysteria, that the audience doesn't have time to think about how
improbable and silly the whole thing is. So stopping the action at
regular intervals for a musical interlude seems inherently a bad
idea, especially when the songs by Brad Carroll and Peter Sham of the
Utah Shakespeare Festival (not another joke – it really exists) are
Carroll's melodies are occasionally quite
sweet, but Sham's pedestrian lyrics invite your mind to wander into
questions like whether just taking off his eyeglasses makes the hero
unrecognisable to his girlfriend and why nobody notices that the
three Otellos look nothing alike.
Damian Humbley is amiable as the
shnook who blossoms when everyone thinks he's the visiting celebrity,
and Matthew Kelly has fun wildly overacting as the panicky
The women in the cast – Cassidy Janson as the ingenue,
Sophie-Louise Dann as the inge-not-so-new (one of the script's better
gags) and Joanna Riding as the visitor's cartoon-Italian wife - are
almost completely wasted, though Dann has one good scene auditioning
for the visitor with a rapid-fire medley of opera's greatest hits
while also trying to seduce him.
When the adaptors get out of the
way, some of Ludwig's farce works, particularly in the second half
when things get most frantic and silly, but the general effect is to
make you wish the producers had just revived the original rather than
unsuccessfully gilding the lily.
Return to Theatreguide.London
- Lend Me A Tenor - Guilgud 2011