Review – Lend Me A Tenor – The Musical, Gielgud Theatre

Monday 13 June 2011

Cast your minds back. Did we not suffer last year when we visited Ken Ludwig‘s original play on which Lend Me A Tenor – The Musical is based? The Whingers are nothing if not slow learners.

But in our defence it was simply too intriguing:  what could the addition of songs contribute – apart from making it longer and even more draining? Can one really make a musical out of a farce? Wouldn’t those ditties slow down and undermine the whole door-slamming raison d’être of the genre?

And coming hot on the heels of the early demises of Hair and the lamented (by us, and almost us alone) loss of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg another failure could the Gielgud Theatre be seeking to snatch the Shaftesbury (Home of the Flops until Hairspray came along) Theatre’s crown?

But the Gods of Optimism had been working overtime, casting two Whinger’s favourite folk: Matthew Kelly and Joanna Riding (Ms Riding presumably was presumably not even required to move out of the dressing room she occupied when appearing in Umbrellas) and the trap sprang shut.

Would hilarity ensue when the world’s greatest tenor Tito Merelli (Michael Matus) came to 1934’s Cleveland to save the ailing Grand Opera Company by giving his Otello,  suddenly becoming  indisposed requiring the director’s geeky assistant Max (Damian Humbley) to step in? Or would it be about as much fun as the Go Compare ads?

Sadly it’s a close call. But just about as irritating and much, much longer.

Yes, this was a preview but the posters are already boasting “This summer’s musical comedy hit”. Rather cheeky if you think about it. What exactly constitutes a hit? Good reviews for its Plymouth run last year? Or because it’s selling out? If so, why did Time Out offer top price seats at “a tenner for a tenor” last week?

There is nothing much wrong with most of the cast, directed by Ian Talbot to fling themselves in and out of doors with abandon, some sweating heavily on the prettily gaudy purple and gold sets, which cleverly transform. Paul Farnsworth, who also designed some rather comely costumes, can hold his head high. Riding is the tenor’s wife and impresses greatly in her all-too-brief appearance in Act 1 (proving to Andrew that it is possible to wear pink and lime green successfully) before disappearing almost for good – popping up shortly at the end.

But the music (Brad Carroll) is rather samey and the book and lyrics (Peter Sham) seemed mostly pedestrian although  to be fair when the chorus sang we barely heard a word, so perhaps their lines are hysterical enough to warrant the “musical comedy” tag.

The only time Phil laughed was when he saw the bell boys prancing around and caught this lyric:

Welcome to the 13th floor
Where the bellhops
Have a number of surprises in store

It seemed there would be few unexpected revelations from these boys.

Andrew could take no more. It may have been based around a performance of Otello, but he was finding nothing moorish on display here. Andrew’s ironing board suddenly seemed more alluring. An interval departure was inevitable.

Phil being more of a trouper (and less attracted to ironing) soldiered on gamely, proving optimism can be a dashed negative virtue. Andrew wasn’t the only one to jump ship and as Act 2 dragged on Phil wistfully surveyed the seats vacated by others at the entr’acte.

Did Andrew miss much? No, unless you count the sight of three men, including a criminally miscast Kelly, dressed as Otello, all tights, dangly cod pieces and black-face. Only one number (Sophie-Louise Dann‘s “May I have a Moment?”) really took off, but that’s because it was largely a medly of opera classics, which says all you need about the rest of the songs. And it did have a couple of decent sight gags including a rather unhygienic one with a toilet brush.

Phil was hoping for a big tap number, but tap was dispensed with rather perfunctorily in Act 1. Since much of Act 2 is confined to Merelli’s hotel suite, which is divided into two rooms, the groupings had to be kept to either side of a largely invisible wall which obviated the chance of a real show-stopper. The show’s finale saw the full cast reprising the rather bland title song.

We should have known better. Even though this was a preview the problem’s in the material and looks beyond saving.

It’s too late to bring in a show doctor unless they were trained at Dignitas. Or as Andrew, in keeping with the Otello theme, mused before deciding to end it all, “Lend me a pillow”.



44 Responses to “Review – Lend Me A Tenor – The Musical, Gielgud Theatre”

  1. celestialteapot Says:

    I think reviewers should wait until press night before posting reviews, but that’s just me.

    (disclaimer: I work on it)

    Every night the audience seem to be having a great time, gales of laughter, applause and at least one standing ovation in the upper circle (I’m told the other levels have stood more than once). It’s fun, daft and even I can’t for the life of me remember the lyrics I can hum the tunes.

    Having come from one show that I could never understand why it was still running, I’m disappointed that people are out to sink this – there is nothing like it in the WE and it’s nice to see something new that it’s a jukebox musical or a tacky film adaptation.

  2. James Chambers Says:

    A free ticket gawd bless ’em, couldn’t persuade me to stay beyond the interval on a sunny afternoon, when there was ice-cream beckoning around the corner at Gelupo.

    Yes it was a preview, but the book was dreadful, the music mediocre and the comedy some of the lamest I’ve come across in a long time. Bless the producers for having the guts to bring this to the West End – but they really should have known better.

  3. David Cottis Says:

    ‘at least one standing ovation in the upper circle’ –

    I think that has to be the most forlorn boast I’ve ever heard

  4. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    And standing ovations shouldn’t be confused with getting up to leave…

  5. Ali67 Says:

    How bizarre to read such negative thoughts… I’ve heard nothing but good things about it from everyone I know who’ve seen it…

    I didn’t love it myself.. Matthew Kelly is dreadful.. Like he’s performing in another show entirely , but Michael Matus and Damien Humbley are fabulous and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard a set change get a round of applause…(not that I’m saying that’s a good thing!)

    • Sir Andrew Wizard of Cash Says:

      God bless the Whingers. Don’t let the po-faced get you down. You provide a valuable service. Well, a service anyway.

      • Sir Andrew Wizard of Cash Says:

        Oopshhh. Wrong place. Meant thishhh to be added to the main thread. I’m shhhober, officer, look – I can even come up with the shhame key-change in all my (hic) musicalshh.

  6. Phil Swales Says:

    I saw it for free on Saturday night. I enjoyed the sets and the costumes, but Matthew Kelly wasn’t really suited to the role.

    And there is a big gaping plot hole in the story too, which spoilt it for me a bit.

  7. celestialteapot Says:

    People who leave normally head towards the exit, not stand in one position and clap loudly. I find that standing ovations in the upper circle are uncommon so I think it is something to feel happy about, particularly when in preview.

    Pinch of salt about Facebook fan pages for shows and the What’s on Stage Discussion board but people seem to be enjoying themselves. Guess you weren’t invited to the press night either 😉

  8. DeNada Says:

    Everyone I know who’s seen it (i.e. everyone who turns up when I search for the show on Twitter) is an actor or at drama school. They’re all in on comps (seriously, the show is papering like crazy – good for getting people in to see it I guess, but only if the word of mouth spreads beyond the theatre community) and adhere to the common code of not speaking ill of other people’s shows. I will be very interested to see what other reviewers think.

    And, um, the Whingers have essentially taken my thoughts straight out of my head and put them on the page… the funniest part of the show was when the music stopped for about ten minutes in the second act and the doors started slamming – so what was the point in musicalising it? I also suspect that May I Have A Moment will fall a bit flat with an audience that doesn’t recognise half the opera numbers later on in the run…

  9. Ali67 Says:

    It did have the highest stage I’ve ever seen. I was stalls row L and still was looking up. Maybe the upper circle can see peoples feet…

    Those poor people in the front rows..

  10. VoS Says:

    Normally agree with the WEW but on this one I have to disagree. Went last night and after a rocky start (was sat there for the first 10 mins thinking oh dear) found myself quite enjoying myself. Come the end I knew I had to give it a standing ovation. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I might be the only one on my feat but was plesantly surprised to find around 80% of the house joining me. Kelly is miscast, but the performances from Matus and Humbly were simply outstanding. Weird because I almost feel that it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. I shouldn’t have liked it, but I did. I even loved the OTT set!

  11. fudgesinger Says:

    Just saw this musical farce.Not expecting to enjoy it. as I hate old fsshioned show/farces. I found myself actually laughing adn chuckling throughout. There are some excellent moments – the tap dancen on the sutcases in Act One is stand out , the Wonderful opera pastice in the Act Two amazing and of course . Joanna Riding. I loved the silliness of it.all

    Act One still needs trimming but Act Two runs along beautifully.Yes there are some ddesrved standing ovations too and the audienceo n either side of me were laughing away. The question si should have been muscalised? Do the songs hold up the action. A couple of them do but there are some show stopping moments. Result a lively show for the family and certainly worth leaving the tele X Factor and the like for a few hours pleasure with your family whe you ofrget the recession. it is all such sill and harmless fun.

  12. Chris Jamerson Says:

    After reading your review of the recent show Lend Me A Tenor, who’s official opening night was the 15th June 2011, I find it odd how an un-official west end company such as yourselves are able to write your own review of the show before press night. Surely the reason behind press night is for (real) critics to give their views of a show? Critcs were not able to give their review of the performance before press night and even more so are not able to post their reviews online or via any other source? I understand you are not an official or well known (liked) company, but please, out of the respect of theatre-goers and the people who have not seen the show, keep your reviews to yourselves to avoid any spoliers.

  13. Max Says:

    “Chris Says: Wednesday 15 June 2011 at 11:46 pm
    lets leave it to the real critcs ay? not the amatuers from whingers. cheers”

    I think you mean “eh” Chris and not “ay”. But nay, actually. Any time anyone says “eh?” in order to back up their point, it is patronising and coercive. The Whingers are theatre goers like all of us, and in this case their not being “real critics” (who’s to say?) is to our benefit. These comments have saved me the expense of seeing this show, which sounds a bit ropey – even though I think Joanna Riding is the best thing the West End has by way of a leading lady.

  14. David Nice Says:

    Very cruel, very funny – and very wrong, in my books: what a shame if anyone doesn’t see the show as a result. For the record, nearly the entire stalls was standing around me on Tuesday night. I didn’t think it was quite deserving of that but it was very, very good, and hard to fault in terms of performances and slickness.

    • JohnnyFox Says:

      I wonder how much of the Stalls will be standing when they’re obliged to pay £62.50 or £85 for the privilege: the pricing of this show is eye-watering, £62.50 goes back to row T of the stalls and every row in the Dress Circle.

      This was possibly the most ‘papered’ show I’ve seen recently – it could have been sponsored by B&Q ready-pasted vinyl – but the Whingers are vindicated by the broadsheet reviewers who also panned it, as did I if anyone needs to read another cheap jibe at the show – written last week (apart from the Dominic Cavendish quote) and embargoed till Press Night.

  15. canofcoke Says:

    “And coming hot on the heels of the early demises of Hair and the lamented (by us, and almost us alone) loss of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg another failure could the Gielgud Theatre be seeking to snatch the Shaftesbury (Home of the Flops until Hairspray came along) Theatre’s crown?”

    I like it how you conveniently forgot the huge success Yes Prime Minister was at the theatre, or do you only write and or remember things that are convenient to your reviews…

  16. Ginny Says:

    How many demises did Hair have?

    Should there be some sort of comma arrangement around the ‘another failure’ remark?

    Is the second ‘presumably’ in ‘Ms Riding presumably was presumably not even required to move out of the dressing room she occupied when appearing in Umbrellas’ there for emphasis?

    ‘There is nothing much wrong with most of the cast, directed by Ian Talbot to fling themselves in and out of doors with abandon, some sweating heavily on the prettily gaudy purple and gold sets, which cleverly transform.’ Would this be a better sentence if you re-wrote it into two, one containing each thought?

    Also isn’t the point of the set that it is one set that transforms, hence not really a plural?

    Also most people, when writing English, tend not to stick an adverb between the subject and the verb if they can help it.

    When you say the problem’s… beyond saving – do you mean the show is beyond saving?

    6/10 – some of your ideas are diverting but your grammar is inconsistent and your attention to detail lets you down.

    • Mark I Says:

      Yeah, Whingers, grammar is what I come to this site for. So pull your socks up, or I will stop reading your site, you let downers!

      Mark I

  17. JohnnyFox Says:

    You SO know you’re right when the cast’s grannies and boyfriends come out to defend them. Bravi, I Whingeri, it’s a great big steaming platter of stale Dolmio.

    • David Nice Says:

      Don’t be so smug, JohnnyFox – you’re wrong in my books, and I have no vested interests at all: quite expected to hate it and wouldn’t have bothered without the twin calls of duty and just a smidgin of curiosity about the subject.

      And whether papered or not, the audience of show people wouldn’t have been fobbed off with total crap – I simply reported the ready standing ovation and should add that the laughter was pretty ready too.

      On the subject of prices, own boyfriend went on a works outing to see Legally Blonde the Mus and the tx for poor-view seats were £66 a shot – he left at the interval saying it was the direst crap (loves the film, so do I) and I guarantee if he’d come to LMATTM he would have stayed. So there.

  18. Chris O'Halloran Says:

    Well this was even more mean spirited than usual… but what else to expect when you went in so clearly wanting to hate it. Certainly not for everyone, but the crowd I that I saw it with truly seemed to be having a lovely time.

  19. […] The West End Whingers ‘reviewed’ us before press night (black mark in my book), they went in expecting to hate it and hated it christening it ‘Lend Me a Pillow’ – I doubt you could sleep through the show, there’s too much laughing from the audience, door slamming and general hilarity. To be honest, even though I read the WEW blog I don’t really take them seriously, I have for a long time thought that they give good reviews to the shows they’ve been invited to by producers who have caught onto the ‘annoymous’ free publicity blogs can give. They do this rubbish about covering their faces in photographs, trying to gain some notoriety I suppose in a sort of “ooh, we’re edgy and if producers knew who we were they’d bar us from seeing the show.” way. […]

  20. G. T. E. Says:

    I saw LMAT two nights ago and loved it! The audience were laughing all the way through and the whole production was great. Kelly is miscast and could possibly do with being given a patter song or something. Also, Matus as Tito needs to be written a big number where he can show off on his own.

    Can’t fault the rest of it…I thought the orchestrations were great, the cast was excellent and I had a brilliant time. Standing ovation was given by nearly everyone in the stalls.

    Maybe it proves why previews are held before press night?

  21. Charlie Says:

    As usual I love the Whingers’ reviews, bad grammar or not, but I probably disagree with 2 out of 3 of them – recently Umbrellas and A Delicate Balance… and this one. I hate farces usually – really, I do. Couldn’t stand The Producers, and Noises Off barely had me laughing at all. But for some reason this show tickled me. Found myself crying with laughter – to the detriment of my eye make-up which ran down my face, as I discovered when I got home – not entirely sure why my friends didn’t let me know. Yep, ok, there weren’t that many memorable songs (although I did love the opera one) but I thought that it was brilliantly cast (Matthew Kelly aside), right down to a fab ensemble. Each to their own, but I hope this show lasts a few months at least. It’s just a nice change to have something a bit more traditional in the West End – a show that’s not based around the music of some band I don’t even like, or a cheesy film.

  22. Jack Milani Says:

    Having left at the interval of the last three productions I have seen including The Beggars Opera in the park, this was an evening of sheer enjoyment. The rest of the audience loved it and so did I. Far from not hearing the chorus, the sound was strong and vibrant. A joyous evening full of talent. Didn’t know the songs but loved them all.

  23. johnbasham Says:

    Agree entirely with the whingers.Think back to a (much earlier)musical farce which wisely only had 2 songs apart from the funeral sequence in act two to detract from the farce element.
    And that hideous colour for the set.

  24. Diane King Says:

    I’m a regular theatre goer and I *loved* this show and am amazed by these negative comments. I was in a packed Dress Circle a few nights before Press Night and there was laughter throughout and a standing ovation from pretty much everyone there! Everyone was coming out with big smiles on their faces and saying what a great time they’d had. Matthew Kelly is the only one of the cast who can’t ‘sing’ though his part doesn’t really need him to, but otherwise the cast are magnificent and I can’t wait to see the show again, taking a crowd of friends with me.

  25. Stevie Says:

    A second visit tonight, this time with a non-theatre-going lady friend that loved every minute, we laughed and chuckled all the way through. And so we should have since it’s hard to see what more the production can do to improve, ..and please the cynics. When reading the negativity of some reviews one wonders if a person that slags off every theatrical production should give up on theatre and try another form of entertainment? Tenor is worth seeing for the lush chocolate box set and costumes alone, coupled with a highly talented cast with many excellent voices, the genre of farce was brilliantly delivered. Comments that Mr. Kelly is miss-cast are off mark, I’m no fan and was pleasantly impressed; the show also delivers a quaint message courtesy of Damian Humbley. Mass standing ovations and very loud cheers from full stalls and 60% dress circle, hopefully the contented will spread the word. NO! I don’t have connections with the show as is some individuals’ retort to kind reviews. [Nota Bene: seat price and satisfaction are interlinked, if uncertain buy a seat in the Gods and return to enjoy a second time, often seats are upgraded FOC anyway. It’s surprising how much more enjoyable a second viewing to any show can be, picking up on missed expression, lines, and the double entendre. The Gods at Tenor are just £11.75 inc. online, the show is well worth £30+]

  26. Sheila and Jimmy Says:

    We came down on holiday from Scotland and wanted to see a West End show, something we had not seen before. Opted for LMAT and were totally captivated – it was a real treat and we laughed til the tears ran down our cheeks. Back home we have raved about the show to all our friends. Thanks so much and well done to all concerned. Don’t listen to these crusty old critics – you were all brilliant!

  27. Philip Says:

    BULLSHIT, firstly you open you crap trap before opening night then come out with a load of pathetic, over the top rubbish because you want to appear as a tough critic, I do not work for the show but I am in the performing arts industry and think I could write a better critique than you. Even the parts that could be criticised were nasty and uncalled for. The show is held together by an exceptional cast who do a much better job at their jobs then you do of yours. That is all.

    • Sir Andrew Wizard of Cash Says:

      “[I] think I could write a better critique than you.”

      Well, wrong on one count anyway.

      I loved this show and that’s without even having seen it.

  28. Stevie Says:

    To all the cast, crew, production team, financial backers and Gielgud staff; I’ll be there on the closing night (6th Aug.) for a third and most enjoyable visit to your show. Criminal. Love & Best Wishes, S. Buckle

    • Sir Andrew Wizard of Cash Says:

      Why are you addressing them via the Whingers? Wouldn’t a three or four page centre spread in an upmarket broadsheet be more appropriate? Or – if money’s tight – a letter to the cast c/o the stage door?

  29. Ed Says:

    Anybody who’s just read this and thought again about booking for one of the sadly final three shows, don’t.

    The show is brilliant and witty and very funny. Yes, there are mixed revues but that’s always a matter of opinion. I laughed (and so did everybody else) from begining to end last night and will be going back for the final show on saturday.

    It seems to be that all (well almost all) of the audience love the show, last night it recived a much earned stand ovation from the entire house. So many people who’ve given the show a chance and gone in with an open mind have loved it.

    Not to mention the stand-out preformances from Cassidy Janson and Joanna Riding… Actually the only fault I found with the show was Matthew Kelly. As somebody who’s also seen the show said to me: He’s just not an actor.

    I also have to say that im willing to support any new theatre that isn’t a tacky movie adaptaion, knock-off or Jukebox musical. Sadly the audience for anything without the ‘greatest hits’ of Abba or The Four Seasons just dosen’t seem to be there.

    Personally, im waiting for the evevitable train wreck that will be Title Of Show if, a planed it does come to London anytime soon.

  30. Liz Says:

    “It is the business of a critic to point out the particular excellences of a work.” (or words to that effect; Joseph Addison, early 18c)

    Why sneer at a show that was thoroughly entertaining, witty, spot-on with comic timing, well-acted, fabulous set which suited the setting and plot to a T, well lit, . . .” perhaps these things don’t matter to you.

    Well, your triumph may just have been to help to close the show early. You may delighted that several theatre professionals, most working at the top of their bent, will be out of work come this Sunday.

  31. Diane King Says:

    Liz, I agree with your comment 100%.

    Ten of us are seeing it tomorrow (2 for the second time) on its last afternoon, and I am very sad that a show as entertaining and superbly performed as this is closing so soon.

  32. Piers Barclay Says:

    I do admire everyone’s commitment at posting on here. Must be a large cast.
    Strange though, that this ‘totally captivating’ musical which everyone loved has closed early. Strange.

  33. Lord Sir Andrew Paint Dries Says:

    I know this is off-topic, but does anyone know a good way of frying sausages without them flopping over?

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