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Lend Me a Tenor

Review by Jeff Green

As the curtain rose on Lend Me a Tenor, the hilarious and naughty comedic romp produced by ACT (a community theatre) for three nights last month at the Carrefour Theatre, I suddenly remembered a nugget of acting advice a veteran Newfoundland stage director once told me. “You gotta convince audiences you’re enjoying your time on stage,” I recalled her hollering. “People want to see that zeal for acting in your eyes!”

The cast of ACT’s latest production didn’t have to do much to convince me they were having a great time frolicking on stage. They marvelously bounced lines off one another, were confident and in tune with the material and had great onstage chemistry. I particularly enjoyed the effortless work of Corin McFadden who played Max, the bumbling sheepish assistant to actor Paul Whelan’s character, Henry Saunders, the general manager of the Bytown Opera Society.

Tenor was written by American playwright Ken Ludwig and is his homage to one of the best—and oldest—forms of humour: the farce, a comedy in which confusion, mayhem, mistaken identity, sexual innuendo and deception are all prime ingredients. It is set in September 1934 in a hotel suite, realistically constructed by set designer Garnett Gallant, complete with Picasso and Vanity Fair painting reproductions. Saunders has hired world-famous tenor Tito Merelli, comically portrayed by Danny Maloney, to perform at a swanky fund-raiser for his Society but the star has arrived late, much to his chagrin. Before Tito can even get on stage, he erupts into a feud with his wife, wonderfully played by Barbara Rhodenhizer. The two are a stereotypical loud Italian couple who shout rather than talk. Comedic turmoil shifts into high gear when Maria, in a fit of anger, decides she has had enough of Tito’s skirt-chasing antics and walks out on him, leaving behind a good-bye note. Tito is sideswiped. “She-uh hates me-uh. I want to-uh kill myself-uh,” he mutters to Max while wallowing in his sorrows. After a series of mishaps, Tito eventually passes out and Maria’s “Dear John” letter is mistaken for his suicide note.

The Society stands to lose $50,000 in ticket sales unless they can find a way to get their “dead” singer to perform. Unwaveringly, Saunders insists the show must go on, even if it means sending in a replacement! “We could prop him up and play a record,” he cracks before persuading Max, an aspiring singer, to slip into Tito’s costume and fool the audience.

However, we soon discover that Tito is not dead, just heavily comatose. That leaves two Otellos running around the Opera House.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Bryde MacLean who gives a sweet performance as Maggie, Max’s girlfriend; Jennifer Campbell as soprano singer Diana; Rowena Stinson as Julia; Nick Whelan as the bellhop and Tony Welsh as the busboy.

The performances were not the only highlight of the show. I admired costume designer and construction co-ordinator Pam Jewell’s period clothing and lighting designer Tom Barnes put focus on the right place.

But my favourite part of the show was a high-energy montage of scenes just before the curtain fell.

In a program note, director Brenda Porter said ACT decided to stage Lend Me a Tenor to inject some laughter into our mid-winter blahs, and for that we should be grateful.

The charm of solid community theatre like this show is seeing the actors having as good of a time on stage as the audiences who left the theatre with smiles on their faces.

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