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June 11, 2010


Review: Lend Me A Tenor

by Jesse North

When Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig came to Broadway in A Steady Rain, all they did was sit in chairs and pace back and forth on a bare stage. In Stanley Tucci’s production of Lend Me A Tenor, which features Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shaloub, and Justin Bartha, the three Hollywood men leap over furniture, dress in ridiculous getups, and tackle each other. Now that’s giving an audience what they paid for.

Tucci’s production of Ken Ludwig’s farcical play of a blowhard opera star and the two theater gents trying to handle him hearkens back to the old-fashioned comedies of the 1930s. Tucci’s direction of this revival, which takes place in the 30s, makes it feel similar to watching an old black and white comedy. The movements are big, as are the facial expressions, and hearken back to the skills of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers.

LaPaglia plays the puffed up tenor, while Shaloub serves as the opera company manager who bosses around Bartha’s meek assistant. Tucci directs them and the rest of the cast to the most detailed and efficient degree. Tenor is very much a physical comedy, and it is executed wonderfully. Timing is everything, as these actors are contending with entrances that rely on other characters’ exits that are happening simultaneously. Shaloub leaps over furniture. Shaloub leaps onto LaPaglia’s unconscious body, followed by Bartha. So much goes on in Tenor, yet it’s all coordinated masterfully.

Meanwhile, while all this physicality is occurring, I didn’t laugh once. This comedy of mistaken identity is painfully situational and feels tired. It actually feels decades tired. Nostalgia and throwbacks to theatrical stylings of the past are always welcome, but that doesn’t guarantee charm. South Pacific is definitely a dated musical, but its 2008 revival somehow felt fresh and exciting. The problem here is Ludwig’s writing, which doesn’t hold up. I don’t know how it played when it premiered in 1989, but in 2010, it feels like grinning at a joke that isn’t funny, but you want it to be. Suspension of the audience’s belief can only be pushed so far—there is no way to expect an intelligent audience to flow with characters who are actually mistaking Bartha’s character for LaPaglia’s, when the two look nothing alike.

Despite the comedy of Tenor not being at all potent, the show still manages to be an enjoyable watch. I found myself wrapped up in the physical craft of the cast and how well they were exerting themselves during this exhaustive play. Proving that it’s the physicality and direction of this production of Tenor that makes it great, before the curtain call, the casts reenacts the events of the entire play in “fast forward” mode. It felt like a silent movie and just as enjoyable. No dialogue needed.

The rush
I rushed Lend Me A Tenor in a way that is rarely possible—piggybacking it off of another rush. I waited two hours in the morning for the Fences box office to open, banking on the likelihood that Tenor wouldn’t even be a fraction as in-demand as the show headlined by Denzel Washington would. I purchased my standing-room ticket for Fences and bolted over to the Music Box Theatre, where rush tickets go on sale when the box office opens. I found myself behind a line of about 10 people. Lucky for me, it was a Wednesday, so people in line were buying tickets for the matinee and the evening performance. Sometimes rushing as a single has its benefits. Once I was third from the window, the box office attendant announced there was only one rush ticket left for the matinee. That didn’t suit the needs of those in front of me, and I was able to snatch up the remaining ticket. Tenor has a general rush policy for two tickets per person at $26.50 each. The seats are in the first few rows of the orchestra, to the extreme left and right of the stage.

Play: B- / Rush: A-

Photo: Joan Marcus

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Linda
    Jun 11 2010

    I felt the exact same way. I enjoyed the play, but I didn’t think it was laugh-out-loud funny either. After reading all those glowing reviews, it’s nice that someone else is on the same page. I was very impressed with Justin Bartha, though.

    • Jun 11 2010

      I was impressed with Justin Bartha too! I was surprised that he kinda got the lead role. Well, more of the lead. I was happy. I thought he was pretty one-toned as meek Max, but when he became Otello, I realized he had a lot more range, which I was glad to see.


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