By TERRENCE GIRARD
Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” was a Broadway success in 1989, and put him on the map among contemporary farceurs. Surfside Players kicked off their 2014-15 season with a production, which I’m glad I caught on its final weekend.
Rob Dickman set the play into motion as visiting opera star Tito Merilli, arriving in Cleveland for a one-night benefit fundraiser for the local opera company. Director Bryan Bergeron wisely showed off Mr. Dickman’s powerful tenor voice to establish Tito’s credentials, and we bought into his overblown ego and histrionics without question.
For me, the comic engine that really got the show humming was Jack Maloney’s Henry Saunders, director of the Cleveland opera company hosting Il Stupendo. When Tito overmedicates and cannot go on, a substitute must be snuck into his starring role in Otello to avoid refunding the benefit’s ticket proceeds. Maloney’s increasingly desperate need to hide the ruse fueled much of the manic energy and comic schtick. Rich Reifsnyder countered Maloney beautifully as Max, his somewhat nebbish assistant, who is lured into the deception by the promise of his ‘big break’ with the opera company.
Liz Keimer scored as Maria, Tito’s Italian spitfire of a wife, fed up with her husband’s real or imagined philandering. Donna Furfaro added comic brio as Julia Leverett, the dilettante maven of the opera company. Hilariously costumed to resemble a certain New York City landmark, she drew big laughs draping herself seductively on a sofa to offer “Il Stupendo” her um, comfort. Sarah Roberts lent expert slinky support as Diana, a soprano in the opera company who would also like to seduce Tito and obtain his help in advancing her career.
Michelle Dion was delightful as Max’s perky girlfriend (and Henry’s daughter), starstruck by Tito and unwilling to commit fully to Max until she’s tasted more of life. Matthew Hall rounded out the cast as an ambitious bellhop who (guess what?) is also jockeying for an impromptu audition.
It took quite the suspension of disbelief to buy that Reifsnyder and Dickman could be mistaken for one another – even under their dark Othello makeup – but that goes with the farcical territory. Bergeron and his cast delivered all the door slamming, identity confusion, and underwear-clad girls that are staples of the genre, with precision and energy.
The production dispensed with the optional scripted curtain call that recaps the proceedings in short order; I didn’t miss it in the least. The set – the sitting room and bedroom of a fancy hotel suite – was impressive, and costumes by Eldonna Mellen were flattering and period appropriate. I’m not a big fan of musical underscoring used to clobber us over the head, but that’s a minor nit. In all, the production was an auspicious beginning to Surfside’s new season.
SIDE O’ GRITS: Since we missed getting a review in time for the run of “Lend Me a Tenor,” we feel duty bound to let you know Surfside Players’ next show. It’s the thriller “Wait Until Dark.” It runs Oct. 17 to Nov. 2 at Surfside Playhouse. Visit www.SurfsidePlayers.com.