Doug Carter, Hale Centre Theatre
Max (Greg Barnett, left), Tito Morelli (Bruce Bredeson) and Maggie (Shanna Jones) in Hale Centre Theatre's "Lend Me a Tenor."
LEND ME A TENOR, Hale Centre Theatre, through Feb. 9 (984-9000), running time: 2 hours (one intermission)

If you saw one of the other local productions of "Lend Me a Tenor" this year, you haven't seen it the way Hale Centre Theatre is doing it.

Theirs is a gentler — and rounder — version. The comedy was performed at Westminster College in March 2006 and at the Utah Shakespearean Festival last summer. The story is one of love, lust and deception, as a long-awaited tenor from Italy is unable to go onstage at the Cleveland Opera and is impersonated by a previously bashful lad, a lowly employee of the theater.

The lad, Max, is in love with the theater manager's daughter, Maggie Saunders. But Maggie, like every other woman in Cleveland, is besotted with the tenor, Tito. On traditional stages, a part of the production's humor comes from the way the actors run between rooms and slam doors and jump into closets. The Hale Center's round stage necessitates the use of a transparent door in the middle of the hotel room, which changes the action a bit. Sitting in the audience, you find yourself staring at the door a lot.

The Hale set, designed by Andrew Barrus, is intricate and attractive, which helps to make up for in visual stimulus what is lost in physical energy. Then, too, under Shawnda Moss' direction, the Hale production is different because it is less raw. Parents might have been uncomfortable taking children to one of the other productions, where they likely won't be with this one.

In Monday's performance (the play is double cast), Shanna Jones was Maggie, Greg Barnett was Max (charmingly awkward), David Phillips was Mr. Saunders (Maggie's father), Bruce A. Bredeson was Tito, Charisse Baxter was Maria (nicely feisty as Tito's wife), Paul Gibbs was the bellhop, Margo Watson was Diana (a local singer on the make) and JaNae Gibbs Cottam was Julia (head of the opera guild).

The premise of the play is that Maggie doesn't want to get married until she's had "romance," and Max is willing to allow her a fling and will still want to marry her. It is a somewhat unhealthy premise. But the plot feels a little less weird at the Hale Centre because the women who are chasing Tito keep their dresses on in this production. Watson's Diana is more of a pretty matron trying to get ahead than she is a young sex kitten desperately trying to claw her way out of Cleveland. Bredeson's Tito discards his toupee when he takes a nap, which makes him more of a comic figure and less of a dangerous predator. And the play is still plenty funny without the discarded dresses.

Sensitivity rating: Mild sexual innuendo and drinking onstage.


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