Okay – here is how this shakes out. You can have a meal before the theatre only if laughing so loud that you bark is something you like to do on a full stomach. The positive side is that it will eat up the calories. On the other hand, if you are one of the squeamish when it comes to laughing and digesting at the same time, best to plan a late night dinner.
We will start the class with the proposition that Tony Shaloub is one of the best AND funniest actors around. My proof? Lend Me A Tenor. The year is 1934. It is the tenth anniversary of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. Shaloub is Saunders, the local Opera Impresario. His tenor for the upcoming, as in tonight, is Tito Merelli ( Anthony LaPaglia) who has deigned to make his American Debut in Cleveland. Othello is the opera in question.
Merelli’s train is late, which puts Saunders into a tizzy. That plus the fact that his daughter Maggie (Mary Catherin Garrison) is he proud owner of hormones that are coming of age tips him over the egde. Maggie is in a near swoon over Merelli and is a constant flirt with Saunders assistant Max (Justin Bartha). When Merelli arrives with his wife Maria (Jan Maxwell) there begins a door-slamming, eavesdropping, mistaken identity assuming series of events that will make your eyes bug out of your head.
The Merelli’s are at a peak of pique. One more word out of him and she is out the door. One more word comes – but only after Merelli has had more than enough to drink and just before he settles down for a long winter’s nap. Who will replace Morelli and how can they pull it off with no one the wiser?
Led by Shaloub, who has been taking all his vitamins and some of yours as well, the actors assume the role of acrobats as they hurtle from one scene to another. Like trapeze artists, they leap with the assumption that someone will catch them. There is no net. It is high wire work and this cast is grand. I can only assume that the rehearsals were more “What if we try THIS?” and less “That would be too much.” There are tweaks and surprises sprinkled in like hot peppers in General Tsao’s chicken, only these beauties make you scream in the good way.
If I did quibble with anything, and of course I will, it would be the choice of using Othello as the character for the mistaken identity. I don’t know from opera, but isn’t there any other character that wears a disguise? Pagliacci? Cyrano? The use of blackface (yes I KNOW it’s 1934) is more or less insulting. Another choice could have been made couldn’t there?
And the second act is not nearly as funny as the first, which is no fault of the actors. There are just so many knots to unravel that the humor becomes servant to the plot. Too bad about that.
With the exception of Brooke Adams, who seems woefully out of place as a dowager, the cast is cracker-jack. Also crackers. Shaloub give the impression that if he could think of a way to leap off the stage into your lap he would. Jan Maxwell is both dizzy and demanding – her hisses are worth a thousand words. Justin Bartha is crisp and facile. Lapaglia is wallowing in this part like a pig in mud.
Oh, and speaking of LaPaglia – I’m invoking a New Rule – photos in Playbill should be no older than 10 years or 10 pounds. Mr. L – you need a new one, and the way this show is looking you will have a lot of time to find yourself a photographer in the Big Apple.
"Labor-intensive but laugh-deficient."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"There are lots of laughs and lots of lulls."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Exactly what it needs to be: hilarious."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"It entertains." & "Navigating the high seas of farce for a resounding run.
John Simon for Bloomberg
"Evening full of belly laughs."
David Sheward for Back Stage
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"More than enough laughter to keep Ludwig's outlandish story spinning merrily."
Michael Kuchwara for Associated Press
"Is at times hysterically funny."
Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...