Review – Lend Me A Tenor, Music Box Theatre, Broadway

Wednesday 28 April 2010

The Broadway Bellyachers’ last show on The Broadway was Ken Ludwig‘s “howlingly funny” (Time Out New York), “hilarious” (New York PostLend Me A Tenor.

It came highly recommended by real people too, but most promisingly of all Charles Isherwood dissed it and so far his opinions had proved to be the very anti-matter to our opinions (which are clearly therefore the ones that matter – see what we did there?).

Anyhoo, we hadn’t agreed with him on anything. Surely we were destined to adore Lend Me A Tenor?

Rather oddly this 1986 farce (which produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber ran in London for 10 months at what is now the Gielgud Theatre) is being turned into a musical opening in Plymouth (Devon) in September, supposedly prior to the West End. Now, the idea of turning a farce into a musical may seem a slightly bizarre idea. Aren’t farces meant to be full of frantic trouser-dropping, mistaken identities and doors slamming  at break-neck speed. Wouldn’t musical numbers slow down the pace?

Yes, if there were any pace to slow down. But Lend Me A Tenor has all the zing and panache of a freight train, blowing its whistle a mile off to warn the audience of every gag.

We’re in 1930s Cleveland, Ohio. Hefty renowned tenor Tito Merelli aka “Il Stupendo” (Anthony LaPaglia) is due to give his Otello at a gala but due to reasons too tedious to go into ends up tranquillised but presumed to be dead on the bed of his hotel suite. Slim, nerdy Max (The Hangover‘s Justin Bartha), potential son-in-law of the show’s impresario Saunders (Tony Shalhoub) is persuaded to impersonate Merelli and take place in the concert. This he can (in the world of farce anyway) conveniently do because he will be wearing Otello black-face.

But after Max has left for the gala the real Merelli awakens, panics, blacks up, dons a duplicate costume (though from where he got it we have no idea) and hilarity ensues throughout most of the theatre apart from the two seats in which the Whingers sat sporting grim-face.

Stanley Tucci‘s production is a curiously flaccid affair despite Phil counting six doors* on the promisingly sumptuous set. Six doors offer plenty of scope for farcical shenanigans although strangely Charles Isherwood counted only five – perhaps they’ve added another since he saw it, or possibly that is as far as he can count since his behanding in Spokane or possibly we may be getting confused about everything now.

Anyhoo, the female members of the cast – Brooke Adams (a descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams and also Shalhoub’s real-life wife), Mary Catherine Garrison, Jan Maxwell and Jennifer Laura Thompson – get to chase around in some rather spectacular frocks, wigs and hats. But the set-up seemed rather tedious and the Bellyachers sat there po-faced throughout the first act wondering if it would ever kick off, desperately hoping to join those around them who were shrieking with delight. There’s also a very irritating bellhop (Jay Klaitz) but we don’t blame it on the bellboy.

We would have left at the interval if we had paid for our seats. Thankfully the second act offered scant laughs. The highlight was probably a misunderstanding over the profession of one character who was actually an opera singer but thought to be a prostitute (“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little girl”)  but there were no bellyaches caused by laughter here. You know it’s not really working when the only guffaw comes from a perfectly timed gag with a champagne cork. Andrew also laughed when Brooke Adams delivered some unexpected slapstick by walking into a door, although that really just served to remind Andrew that he had missed at least two episodes of You’ve Been Framed since being in New York. YBF is – in Andrew’s humble opinion – the new owner/occupier of farce for where else can you enjoy seeing old ladies’ knickers falling down as they dance at a wedding or children hitting their heads on the corners of dining tables for real AND be allowed to laugh?  We are spoiled today. Theatrical farce just can’t compete.

Phil enjoyed Shaloub and Bartha’s performances but it seemed scant reward for two and a half hours sitting largely stone-faced in an audience which seemed to be lapping it up.

There was also a bizarre pre-curtain call snippet in which the entire story was replayed at break-neck speed without words. By this time the audience was unable to contain itself so it is obviously something wrong with us (and Isherwood). We didn’t love this farce and it’s our fault, we fear.

Ovationage: 99.75% (100% if you count the Whingers who were on their feet but zooming for the exit)


Two out of Five: slightly corked or vinegary


It was a chance to see another Frasier alumnus in the flesh. Anthony LaPaglia played Daphne Moon’s supposedly Mancunian brother Simon in the show, unbelievably winning an Emmy Award for what was possibly the worst attempt at a British accent since Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in Mary Poppins. Coincidently the West End’s original production of LMAT featured Edward Hibbert (Frasier’s restaurant critic Gil Chesterton) as the bellhop.

Steve on Broadway says the Music Box Theatre is probably his favourite Broadway theatre. And it certainly is a gem. Designed by C. Howard Crane it was built by Irving Berlin and producer Sam H. Harris to house Berlin’s Music Box Revues. It has a gorgeous stage curtain (rarely used according to an unusually friendly usher the Bellyachers chatted to as they explored during the interval – recent plays haven’t used the curtain) and huge floating circular boxes (affording a terrible view of the stage according to our usher source) which Dame Edna referred to as “ashtrays” during a run here.

* We are taking bets on pedants writing in to argue that there are seven doors since the set allows one to see both sides of the door between the bedroom and the reception room.

5 Responses to “Review – Lend Me A Tenor, Music Box Theatre, Broadway”

  1. JohnnyFox Says:

    Almost certain to be revived in London if only as a vehicle for the ‘Go Compare’ man.

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    Now you know how I feel at all of those English comedies. On the other hand, this show just might be a dog.

  3. Rigoletto Says:

    I’m pretty sure I’d hate every second of it 😉

  4. dftodd Says:

    My wife and myself saw it in Plymouth enjoyed it so much we wept with laughter, as did most of the audience. deserved to be watched by full houses . For the feel good factor it should be prescribed by the NHS.

  5. […] The decision to tell his story largely backstage is a clever one. It’s great fun observing the rows, insecurities, competitiveness and pomposities of actors. Dervla Kirwan‘s Peg Woofington is a joy throughout and also provides the most moving scene of the evening. David Garrick (Joseph Millson on brilliant form) seems to prefer hanging out at the Haymarket rather than the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where he performs, which gives us the opportunity of seeing two Othellos on stage at one time. Shades of Lend Me A Tenor. […]

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