There was reason for high hopes.
The set for Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” was a vintage 1930s two-room hotel suite with a red velvet day bed, six doors and a massive moose head (graduate student M Erdman takes credit for the scenic design).
Before the play even began at Wednesday’s opening, that moose head talked to us, moving its lips as it delivered the standard turn-off-your-phones speech.
This is going to be fun — and funny — you think as you cozy down into your seat.
And you are right. And wrong.
“Lend Me a Tenor” is a farce about a Cincinnati opera company that has risked everything to bring in a great opera singer for one night. Then the opera singer, a philanderer who has come all the way from Italy to play the title role in Verdi’s “Otello,” gets a massive dose of sleeping pills and seriously conks out. The assistant to the opera director, who secretly aspires to be an opera singer too, thinks he’s dead. So the assistant goes on stage pretending to be the Italian star (one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the play). Meanwhile, the Italian wakes, puts on the costume, and now there are two Otellos, wandering around seducing women and confusing just about everyone. Heck, they are just as confused.
- The costumes, by senior Emma Smith-Siegert, were gorgeous. A slinky gown for the vamp, frumpy suit for the longtime wife, a girlish dress for the ingénue, exquisitely tailored suits for the men. Each underscored the character and told a story.
- Paul Michael Thomson, in the role of the star-struck bellhop, is a complete stitch. He can convey volumes with the shrug of a shoulder and the twitch of a brow, and he isn’t above using just about any theatrical trick in the wings to wring laughs.
- David Hentz as the temperamental opera star, and Brian Klimowski in the role of Max, the opera head’s assistant and wannabe opera singer, were a hoot, playing off each other — as well as the other characters — with precision and deep-rootedness.
- All the student actors were committed to their roles and showed a good sense of farce and a fine flair with opening and slamming doors.
- The second act was packed with energy, and the cast seemed to loosen up and have fun.
What didn’t work
- The play just isn’t that funny. Ludwig uses most of the first act to set everything up, and it becomes almost laborious and humorless.
- Director David Morden instilled some very funny bits, but the first act started on such a high note of hysteria that the actors had nowhere to go.
- The first act is all exposition, and it’s hard to hang on for the payoff in the second act. Blame the playwright for that.