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Theater Review (LA): ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ at Actors Co-op

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Left to right: Stephen Van Dorn, Bruce Ladd, Nathan Bell, Deborah Marlowe, Tannis Hanson. Photo: Lindsay Schnebly.

Winner of three Tonys and four Drama Desk Awards, Ken Ludwig’s 1989 farce comes to Actors Co-op in Hollywood in an energetic and flawlessly staged production.

Set in Cleveland in 1934, Lend Me a Tenor delightfully evokes the screwball comedies of the ’30s with a bit of contemporary lasciviousness thrown in for good measure.

In a suite at a luxury hotel, Henry Saunders (Bruce Ladd), general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Tito Merelli (Floyd Vanbuskirk), a famous Italian opera singer who’s scheduled to play Verdi’s Otello at a gala event that very evening. All of Cleveland society is abuzz with excitement about the performance, and Saunders is fearful of any mishaps. He gives his harried assistant, Max (Nathan Bell), the assignment of keeping the temperamental star under control and getting him to the theater on time. Of course, this being a farce, things quickly spiral out of control.

Kimi Walker’s production is a lively affair, solidly directed by Moosie Drier and capably performed by a game ensemble of players. Ladd, whom I’ve seen in a number of the company’s productions, adds another memorable character to his resumé with his portrayal of Saunders. Vanbuskirk is fun as the fiery, egotistical Merelli, as is Gina D’Acciaro as his loving but imposing wife. Tannis Hanson brings starry-eyed naiveté to her role as Saunders’ daughter, Maggie, who is infatuated with the singer.

Also fun is Stephen Van Dorn, who channels those character actors from the screwball comedies with his portrayal of the manic bellhop. Deborah Marlowe and Selah Victor round out the appealing cast as Julia, the chairwoman of the opera guild, and Diana, the ingenue soprano who wants to do more than just sing with Tito.

Bell makes the most of the plum role of Max, the character around whom all the mayhem revolves.

Karen Ipock’s attractive set design captures the period and has plenty of doors to run in and out of — a requirement for this style of comedy. Wendell C. Carmichael’s costumes look terrific, as do Krys Fehervari’s make-up and hairstyles. The lighting by Mark Svastics and sound design by Warren Davis also contribute to the first-rate tech specs of this production.

Lend Me a Tenor plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through May 4th at Actors Co-op’s David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, through May 4th. Additional Saturday matinees on March 29th and May 3rd at 1:30 p.m. No performances April 18-20. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 463-8460. ext. 300.

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.