Los Angeles Theater Review: LEND ME A TENOR (Actors Co-op in Hollywood)

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by Tom Chaits on March 22, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Farce is difficult. You need to get your audience to suspend disbelief as mischief, mayhem and lots of slamming doors abound, and a series of unlikely and improbable events unfold. Get it right and the ridiculous becomes the hysterical. Get it wrong and it lays there like a dead fish. Lend Me a Tenor currently tuning up at the Actors Co-op in Hollywood hits most of the notes but never quite soars to the upper register ultimately serenading the crowd with a fun and entertaining sojourn instead of a wacky and uproarious ride.

Stephen Van Dorn, Bruce Ladd, Nathan Bell, Deborah Marlowe, Tannis Hanson in Actors Co-op’s production of LEND ME A TENOR.

Ken Ludwig’s (Crazy For You, Moon Over Buffalo) tale of Italian operatic tenor Tito Merelli and his ill-fated Cleveland Opera debut enjoyed a long 1989 Broadway run, garnered seven Tony noms (winning for actor Phillip Bosco and director Jerry Zaks), and got a much ballyhooed revival in 2010. The action takes place in a hotel suite circa 1934 on the eve of the opera’s premiere of Othello starring the world renowned Mr. Merelli in the title role. I won’t go into specific details (you’ll have to experience all the twisted turns and silliness for yourself) but suffice it say things do not go exactly as planned and all hell breaks loose.

Nathan Bell, Gina D’Acciaro, Stephen Van Dorn in Actors Co-op’s production of LEND ME A TENOR.

The capable cast is chomping at the bit to break loose and let it fly but they are restrained by the one-note direction of Moosie Drier. It’s as if Mr. Drier has latched on to one defining character trait for each of the skilled performers and has them play it for all it’s worth: the impresario Saunders: yell; his underling, Max: subjugate; Tito’s hot-blooded Italian wife Maria: castrate. The problem is you need more interpretive fluctuation to make it sing. This flaw in direction is very apparent in the expository set-up and for most of Act I but its effect lessens as the craziness quotient picks up pace in Act II, which builds to a satisfying conclusion.

Nathan Bell and Floyd VanBuskirk in Actors Co-op’s production of LEND ME A TENOR.

Tannis Hanson as the lovelorn Maggie is always easy to watch but is the least successful at breaking free of the director’s restraints, and delivers a very narrow portrayal. Although she only runs the acting gamut from “A-B” what she does, she does very well. Floyd Vanbuskirk fares the best as the over-indulgent tenor, and has the uncanny ability to turn a look or a single word into a hearty guffaw. The busty Gina D’Acciaro plays Maria with great gusto as if she were the Italian version of the Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont on steroids. It’s next to impossible not to smile when Stephen Van Dorn’s quirky obsessed Bellhop is on stage. Bruce Ladd plays Saunders’ affinity for mispronunciation (“Tito” = “Tie-toe”) to the hilt, and Nathan Bell has mastered the art of the dumbfounded and put-upon underdog to a tee. Rounding out the cast in fine style are Deborah Marlowe as benefactor Julia and Selah Victor as opera diva Diana.

Deborah Marlowe, Stephen Van Dorn, Floyd VanBuskirk, Gina D’Acciaro, Bruce Ladd, Selah Victor, Tannis Hanson in Actors Co-op’s production of LEND ME A TENOR.

Karen Ipoc’s sweet suite set and Wendell C. Carmichael’s costumes conjure up the time period perfectly. Warren Davis’s sound design sets the mood with appropriate music but falls short on the inconsistent telephone effects. Sometimes you can hear what the person on the other end is saying, sometimes you can’t (it’s impossible to tell whose decision it was to play it that way); the tinny voices never seem like they’re coming from the phone.

Bruce Ladd and Nathan Bell in Actors Co-op’s production of LEND ME A TENOR.

As a prelude to the curtain call, Mr. Drier has constructed a fast and furious recap of the action with madcap entrances and exits that is a delight to watch. Unfortunately it only points out the frenzy that was missing for most to the show. Had he incorporated a bit more zaniness and a lot less reverence—letting his actors spread their wings—this Tenor would have been a ten.

Top to Bottom - Stephen Van Dorn, Tannis Hanson, Deborah Marlowe in Actors Co-op’s production of LEND ME A TENOR.photos by Lindsay Schnebly

Lend Me a Tenor
Actors Co-op Theatre Company
1760 North Gower St. in Hollywood
scheduled to end on May 4, 2013
for tickets, visit www.actorsco-op.org

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