CenterStage, on the cusp of Dash Point and Federal Way, has mounted a classic farce, “Lend Me a Tenor”. If you like mistaken identities, slamming doors, racing around, pratfalls, great costumes, and very good actors, you’ll enjoy this production. Come to think of it, it sounds like a Shakespeare production, doesn’t it?
Set in 1934, the story revolves around Tito Morelli, a famous Italian tenor, the Luciano Pavarotti of his time, who has been commissioned by the Cleveland Opera Guild to sing “Otello”, one evening only at their biggest fundraiser ever. Then it gets slightly silly.
Tito, as he asks everyone to call him, is played by Chris Maxfield. He’s a big man with a big voice, hence an appropriate actor. Everyone in Cleveland is clamoring to talk to and get an autograph from him, especially the women. The company manager Henry Saunders (Bob De Dea) emphasizes, probably for the 41st time, what his meek assistant Max (Daniel Wood) is to do as Tito’s babysitter. Max is to keep him away from women, booze and anything else that can get him into trouble. He has to get Tito to the theater on time and ready to perform. (Managers have had quite the time keeping Tito from fulfilling his quite risqué reputation!)
Saunders’ daughter Maggie (Kate Alden) is one of the women panting after Tito. She’s semi-engaged to Max, but he’s so prosaic. She wants a fling and she figures that Tito would be ready to oblige her. Of course he is, but his wife Maria is with him, Max is watching Maggie, and her dad is aghast at her star-struck, celebrity ogling.
The bellhop (Zack Wheeler) brings up Tito and his wife Maria and all their bags, giving his very able impression of a tenor. Every time someone calls room service or requests any other service, he sings his entry, trying to curry notice from the great El Stupendo. But when Maria his wife (Alyson Soma), shows up unexpectedly with Tito, the fireworks start. Maria is shrieking at him because he ate two meals for lunch, because, she says, “He wants more bosoms.” When the waitress bends over and shakes her ‘bosoms’ at him, Tito will do anything the bosom owner asks. Consequently, Tito is suffering from indigestion, can’t relax and wants a nap. Maria wants him to take a phenobarbitol so he can relax. Tito, the ever excitable Italian divo, doesn’t want to do anything anyone tells him to do, especially take pills.
Besides Maggie, the Desdemona soprano Diana (Alexandra Novotny) and Julia (Rosalie Hilburn), the president of the Opera Guild, are also lusting after El Stupendo.
The silliness goes all the way to the end, with Max standing in as Tito, after Maria and Max have given a double or perhaps even a quadruple tranquilizer dose between them. With Max and Tito dressed in black face and Tito’s two identical “Otello” costumes, everyone thinks the one Moor they see is Tito; hence the mistaken identities. At the end, everyone ends up with the one they belong with, despite the ladies’ undergarments enticing Tito.
All the actors have great timing and this is what makes a good farce. Director Vince Brady has really drilled the cast on this. It’s a really good effort on everyone’s part.
Set designer Michael Ward has made the best set I’ve seen for this play. The colors of the walls and the quality of the furniture really make this a 1930s hotel. The seven doors on the set are essential. The living room has a kitchen door, French doors to a balcony, a hallway entry and a door into the bedroom. The bedroom has a hallway entry and door to the living room, in addition to the closet and bathroom doors. Every time someone came in, someone else is skipping through a door to avoid detection.
I really loved Rachel Wilkie’s costumes. The women had well fitting, stylish dresses and undergarments. The shoes didn’t look worn and seemed to actually fit. (These are things that are usually a problem for a smaller theater.) The hairstyles were appropriate, and I saw three very pretty beaded evening bags. (I also have a collection.)
The performances are good, the opera snippets are wonderful, the direction, set design and costumes are very good and I thought this was the best rendition of this play I’ve ever seen. (I’ve seen it several times.)
“Lend Me a Tenor runs through March 24 at the Centerstage in the Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road in Federal Way, Washington. Call the box office at 253-661-1444 for tickets, information and notices of future productions.
The next production is “Smokey Joe’s Café” running from May 3 through 26. I saw the 5th Avenue Theatre production a few years ago and the music is wonderful.
One performance only concerts are coming up, too: “It’s a Good Day for Miss Peggy Lee” on April 13 and Reflections of the Supremes on June 29. CenterStage is a gem.