Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: Lend Me a Tenor

Lend Me a Tenor, by Ken Ludwig, produced by Delaware Theatre Company, directed by Bud Martin, featuring Tony Beaithwaite, Jonathan Silver, Eileen Cella, Tracie Higgins, Howie Brown, Marcia Hepps. Set by Dirk Durossette, costumes by Alisa Kleckner. Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: Lend Me a Tenor


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

To say Ken Ludwig’s 1986 farce Lend Me a Tenor is enjoying something of a resurgence is to ignore its ongoing popularity. It’s one of the most-produced contemporary farces, and its 2010 Broadway revival spawned a flurry of regional activity. Bud Martin, who directed Act II Playhouse’s entry last season, found it so nice he decided to mount it twice, importing much of that cast for Delaware Theatre Company’s current production.

And why not? Tony Braithwaite has proved his mettle on area stages as a farceur extraordinaire, with lightning timing and a performance style loose enough to allow for ad libbing during inevitable bedding/running/door-slamming mishaps. Reprising his role as Henry Saunders, the Cleveland Opera’s general manager, he’s a maestro, directing the action through its mayhem: it’s 1934 and the famed Italian tenor Tito Merelli (John Plumpis) overdoses on phenobarbitol after his wife Maria (Tracie Higgins) leaves him, and just before a performance of Verdi’s Otello. Saunders must find a substitute fast, and his assistant Max (Jonathan Silver, an able, nimble match for Braithwaite), who also happens to be dating Saunders’ daughter--after all, what’s a farce without sexual misconduct--is the unlikely man to masquerade as the murderous Moor. 

Returning also are Eileen Cella as ingenue Maggie Saunders, and Howie Brown, as an intrusive bellhop and opera aspirant. Marcia Hepps’ overwrought Aunt Julia and Sarah Litzinger’s overheated soprano Diana complete the ensemble, which works as this sort of ensemble should: fast and furious. Assisted by Dirk Durossette’s sumptuous set design, bedecked with damask sheets, art deco botanical panels and robin’s egg Tiffany design elements, and Alisa Kleckner’s gorgeous costumes--a cobalt blue silk evening dress, amethyst bias-cut gown, deep-red tartan wool pants--add visual elegance to all the zaniness.

So again, why not? The year Tenor debuted was also the year Franco Zeffirelli released his film Otello, featuring a “blacked up” Placido Domingo continuing the long tradition of that role performed by artificially darkened white men. Tenor’s principal visual gag is the blackface and afro wig that allow Max to impersonate Tito onstage. It may be historically accurate (well, not the wig), and a tradition that still continues today, but it’s also a painful reminder of a legacy of institutional racism, and makes a true farce of attempts at audience diversity. Here’s hoping this show’s present resurgence also signals its final curtain call.


Lend Me a Tenor

Playing at: Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water St., Wilmington, Del. Through Sun., Nov. 3. Tickets: $35 to $50. Information: 302-594-1100 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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