Lend Me a Tenor the Musical

Book and lyrics by Peter Sham, music by Brad Carroll, based on the play by Ken Ludwig
Gielgud Theatre
(2011)

Lend Me a Tenor the Musical

The attractions of Lend Me a Tenor lie much more in the music and singing than Ken Ludwig's underlying play or Peter Sham's book.

This new musical, based on a play from quarter of a century ago that won an Olivier and a Tony, is a warm-hearted, old-fashioned farce with jokes to match.

The original version must have been a featherweight comedy with a storyline that would have struggled for credibility even on an opera stage. It should fare rather better with Brad Carroll's musical accompaniment, which is shot through with wicked wit.

The plot is as shaky as Paul Farnsworth's sets (but the latter do speed the evening along). The good news is that it provides a framework for several worthwhile performances.

Ian Talbot manages to catch the aura of 1934 when the tale is set, with music and dance assisting. The Cleveland Grand Opera is about to go under, much to the distress of its patron, Henry Saunders. Matthew Kelly has a great time hamming it up in this part, mugging for every laugh.

The potential saviour on a gala night performance of Verdi's Otello that is to be attended by American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife is Tito Morelli, a tenor to die for, who soon becomes a dead tenor.

His arrival is heralded by an immaculately choreographed tap routine created by Randy Skinner. Michael Matus as Morelli is a Don Juan, whose gallivanting has driven his temperamental wife to distraction.

The fiery duet Facciamo L'Amor between Matus and Joanna Riding as they slug out their differences operatically is almost worth the admission fee alone. Once this is supplemented by two tenors rousing each other to greater heights in Be Yourself as Damian Humbley's prompter Max steps in, music buffs should be pretty happy.

By that stage, Tito has been fed a cocktail of prescription drugs and it becomes clear that a new Otello is required. Mild-mannered, bespectacled Max suddenly discovers his vocation and, once he has blacked up and become a super-tenor, you realise why this opera was the only choice.

After the interval, as we move into pure farce, signalled earlier by a hotel suite with six doors plus french windows, things liven up considerably with some breathless rushing around with three Otellos and some barely-clad beauties.

The evening peaks when Sophie-Louise Dann's Mae West clone diva Diana launches into a witty operatic medley, May I Have a Moment, that brought the house down.

Lend Me a Tenor is at heart a popular entertainment for those looking for an undemanding evening of farce. However, with this cast and score, it rises to become something more memorable.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher