North Coast Rep opens Season 30 with sidesplitting ‘Lend Me a Tenor’
By Diana Saenger
The slam, slam, slamming of doors has never been funnier than in North Coast Repertory Theatre’s (NCRT) current production “Lend Me A Tenor.” Think the Three Stooges chasing themselves through a hotel room or Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in an absurd farce, and that’s the pace of this thoroughly hilarious show.
The show opens in the living room of a hotel suite in Cleveland, Ohio were sits Maggie (Courtney Corey) and Max (Christopher M. Williams). It’s obvious the two are involved, but Maggie is gushing about Tito (Bernard X. Kopsho), a famous Italian opera tenor coming to their town to star as Othello in a benefit performance. Maggie, who met Tito once before, claims to Max that she needs to have a fling before she settles down. She wants to hear bells when she kisses the right man. Williams puts on one of the best snit-fits I’ve seen on stage in his distress over Maggie’s statements.
That’s about the tamest moment in this winner of three Tony Awards. Entering the living room next is a frazzled Saunders (Ted Barton), Maggie’s father and the man in charge of handling Tito who is, so far, a no-show. Saunders insists that guy-Friday Max must sing the opera in disguise and save the show, and Max is about to have another meltdown until Tito and his fiery wife Maria (Jessica John) show up.
From this moment on nothing is predictable and there’s barely a minute when the audience is not roaring. Obviously it’s Tito’s strong romantic voice (not his portly physique) that enthralls women to fall at his feet. Coming in and out of those slamming doors and ducking into closets and bathrooms to avoid each other include Maggie, singer Diana (Jacque Wilke), and the opera show manager Julia (Jill Drexler).
Maria, tired of women hiding in his closets, tells tenor Tito in her Italian accent, “Someday you gonna wake up in bed and you gonna be a soprano!” Then she abruptly leaves the suite.
When Tito insists he must sleep before the evening’s concert, Max helps him by spiking his drink. Hours later, Tito will not wake up, and a distraught Max has to tell Saunders that Tito is dead.
Barton portrays the overwrought Ted perfectly, never far from a heart attack and creating a tension that can be felt in the last row of the theater. Williams easily takes Max through several traumas, and quickly works his way out of one situation into another, all with outrageous gestures. Corey is adorable in her “innocent” pursuit of a fling with Tito and trying to avoid Max and her father. Her facial expressions intensify every evolving emotion.
Wilke, Drexler and John pull off their roles with precision, and adding yet another layer of humor is Albert Park as the hotel bellhop. He, too, is infatuated with Tito and does all he can to intrude into the hotel room to get a picture and autograph of the tenor.
Director Matthew Wiener has raised “Lend Me A Tenor” far off the written page. It’s a spectacular screwball comedy that will have patrons smiling long after they’ve left the theater.
If you go
What: Lend Me A Tenor
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays; 7 p.m. Sundays to Oct. 9
Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
Box office: (858) 481-1055
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