The University of Oklahoma’s University Theatre puts on a fantastic show with Ken Ludwig’s madcap comedy Lend Me a Tenor. Identities are mistaken, doors are slammed, “flings” are flung, and tempers flare, and somewhere in the midst of all this insanity, a pair of young lovers realize that they’re meant to be. That’s show business, right?
Max (Cody Mayo) is a high-strung assistant at a Cleveland opera house. The show opens under high tension, as Max is unable to pick up Tito Morelli (Morgan McCann), the famous Italian tenor scheduled to make his Cleveland debut in only a few hours. Max tries to explain things to his explosive boss, Saunders (Joseph Campo), who, amazingly, is wound even more tightly than Max. Oh, and Saunders is also the father of Maggie (Laura Spencer), Max’s girlfriend. Yikes.
When Morelli finally shows up, he is friendly but uncooperative. He doesn’t want to attend the rehearsal. He ate massive quantities of food earlier, and now he’s sick. He might not go on, after all. Saunders leaves, instructing Max to do “whatever it takes” to ensure that Morelli gets enough rest to perform.
All hell breaks loose when Morelli finds a “Dear John” letter from his wife, Maria. When it becomes clear that the great tenor will not be performing tonight, the panic-stricken Saunders convinces Max, an aspiring singer, to dress as Morelli and perform the opera in his place. Of course, everything goes off without a hitch. Or not.
The cast is superb, effortlessly carrying off challenging physical comedy and fast-paced dialog. They make it look easy, but anyone who’s ever tried to block a Shakespeare scene in high school English class will appreciate the coordination of bodies.
Mayo is a deft physical comedian, using his entire body to trumpet his emotional status. His Max is a neurotic acrobat, leaping onto couches and beds in both excitement and panic. The faces he pulls are priceless, as are his audible gulps and squeals of terror. He’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
Spencer’s portrayal of Maggie plays up the character’s swooning flightiness, but is subtle enough to keep her from becoming a simple caricature. Maggie frustrates you, fawning over Morelli like a teenage Beatles fan, but in the end she wins you over, and you’re genuinely happy for her and Max. The happy ending could be too sappy, but the actors don’t overdo it, so it’s just cute enough. Maggie’s lifting one leg at the knee as she smooches her beau is a nice touch, too. Aww.
All of the actors are great in their roles, playing well off each other. In such a wild farce, it’s easy for antics to swallow up the characters’ sympathetic sides. All of these people seem real, though. Really ridiculous, and really neurotic, but really real. The Morellis are stereotypical hot-headed Italians, but their tender moments provide balance. Saunders starts out as a menacing father-in-law type, but quickly shows his human side when he and Max must band together to form a plan.
This play is set in the 1930s, so something must be said about the costumes. Well, they’re fantastic. Christopher Harris’s designs play off of the characters’ personalities. Maggie sports fashionable, trendy pieces and Diana, the company’s prima donna and notorious femme fatale, wears low-cut, curve-clinging numbers. Max is clad in a stylish but conservative suit. Period costumes are always fun, and these are no exception.
This is a great rendition of a hilarious show. It is directed by Judith Midyett Pender.
Lend Me a Tenor runs through April 13 at the Weitzenhoffer Theatre, located at 563 Elm Ave. in Norman. More information can be found online or by calling 405-325-4101.