Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: 'Lend me a Tenor'

The perfect casting in Act II's production elevates this oft-produced comedy into an evening of fantastical farce.

Review: ‘Lend me a Tenor’

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Jeff Coon, Michael Doherty and Tony Braithwaite in 'Lend Me a Tenor'

By Jim Rutter


On a long enough timeline, every theatre in the country will stage Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor. Like Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, Ludwig’s farce fills the stalls with patrons wanting a laugh and willing to pay for it.

However, the perfect casting at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse elevates their production far above the mid-season filler meant for middle America.

Ludwig’s comedy, about the mishaps surrounding an Italian operatic superstar giving a concert in Cleveland doesn’t require stellar voices for the evening’s sole musical number (I’ve seen actors lip sync this passage). So it seems a waste to cast Jeff Coon—one of Philly’s most prominent musical theatre peformers—as Tito Merelli, even though in just one song, he and Michael Doherty (as Max, the backstage gopher with an underapprecaited vocal talent) thrill with their delivery of a Verdi aria.

But its in the comedy that Doherty and Coon, along with Tony Braithwaite (and the adorable Eileen Cella as Maggie) create the comedic center of this production. Doherty ambles about through exaggerated expressions and gestures (knocking his knees as he “limbers up” to sing), Braithwaite’s sublimates his signature shtick into a manic, fiery performance as the belaugered producer Saunders, and Coon lumbers across the stage, punctuating his pepperoni pronunciations with wild mannerisms.  

For two hours, this trio trips and clowns across Dirk Durosette’s fabulous Art Deco hotel suite (replete with gorgeous, shimmering wall inset murals). Their knack for physical comedy transforms the lighthearted jokes, Italianate innuendo and backstage banter into a fantastical farce that delights in its own sense of abandon.

As Bud Martin’s surefire direction snaps from one improbable situation to the next, the cast’s quick timing convinces that all coincidence, mistaken identity and found affection not only could actually happen, but would follow, if only of necessity.

The special joy in seeing Act II’s production lies in this mix of comic and earnestness, and its juxtaposition of skill from Braithwaite, a local comedic star in the full of his prime, and Doherty, a recent UArts grad in the ascent of his promise.

You can see Lend Me a Tenor anywhere. Philadelphia theatre fans can only hope to see these three talents team up again.

Lend Me a Tenor. Presented through June 8 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. Ambler, PA. Tickets: $27 to $33. Information: 215-654-0200 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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