Old Lyric Summer Theatre's 'Tenor' received warmly by extra-warm audience

By Jay Wamsley

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 14 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

“Lend Me a Tenor,” Caine Old Lyric Theatre, Logan, 1 hour 50 minutes running time, with one intermission, $25-$9, 435-797-8022 or arts.usu.edu

As patrons watched actors in "Lend Me a Tenor" laboring beneath layers of heavy costumes — including furs — with sweat dripping down their faces, the thought occurred that the fourth offering in the Old Lyric Repertory Company's summer season might have made a great midwinter production.

Oh, and then there was the issue of air conditioning, or the lack thereof. Opening night's production of the Ken Ludwig farce might well have been labeled "Lend Me a Good A/C Maintenance Guy," with temperatures approaching triple digits outside and oven-like conditions inside, due to a malfunction or electrical problem of some sort.

But, as they say, the show must go on. And while no one could find the switch to cool the Caine Lyric Theatre, "Lend Me a Tenor" pushed all the right buttons to delight a large house, giving plenty of giggles and showing off several memorable performances in a tight two hours.

"Lend Me a Tenor" has the flavor of a 1930s black-and-white screwball comedy, with mistaken identities being the comedic hub and just enough moments highlighted by one actor dashing in one door and another going out another.

Lego Louis plays Tito Merelli, a famed Italian tenor, making an appearance with the Cleveland Opera Company, who comes with a reputation of being a drinker and a lady's man. Louis' entrance to the hotel where he is to stay in Cleveland is highlighted by his costume and is grand, larger-than-life and sets a fine stage for the character.

Also making a memorable entrance is Stefan Espinosa, playing a minor character, — a bell hop, mind you — with such fun and screwball comedy precision that he garners spontaneous applause when he bounds off after just a few minutes on stage.

Also setting the table in Act 1 are opera company underling Max (Richie Call); Maggie, his girlfriend and daughter of the company's director (Amanda Mahoney); and Saunders (Tom Worthen), the over-the-top Type-A company director.

Call was perfect as the stuttering, shuffling, under-confident Max, but he also served as a counterbalance to the over-caffeinated Saunders. Worthen came on like gangbusters as the driving, hyper opera director, but by the play's end was almost too shrill and could have helped his cause by varying his delivery and intensity from that single note.

As the likable, shy Max, Call carries the first act. He also carries the second act as well, another character that knowledge of might spoil the fun of seeing the show. His timing and expressions were dead-on all night. Louis also had a perfect face, with wide, telling eyes, and had fun with his character.

With the introduction of Diana and Julia, both associated with the opera company, the second act becomes a double-entendre fest. While Diana describes an opera performance and her career desires, Louis's Tito thinks he is hearing a description of, well, something else. And while Maggie describes an autograph request, the Italian visitor gets the impression of, well, something totally different.

Toss Maria, Tito's wife (played with stage-stealing fun by Arika Schockmel) into the fray and lots of playful confusion ensues, all unraveled just in time for a final kiss by Max and Maggie. All in all, a solid, likable '30s comedy, complete with a Jerry Lewis-like bellhop, a Cary Grant-like hero and lots of bigger-than-life supporting actors.

Costuming by Darrin Brooks, as noted, was also a star of the show, and the set design by Dennis Hassan worked like a charm. An inventive curtain call at the play's conclusion was, well, warmly — what else? — received by the hot and sticky Lyric audience.

“Lend Me a Tenor” now runs in repertory with “Steel Magnolias,” “Private Lives” and “Big River.”

Jay Wamsley lives in Smithfield and covers events in and around Cache Valley. He can be reached at jaywams01@gmail.com.

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