There is a limited appeal to great 1930s screwball comedies like "A Night at the Opera" and "His Girl Friday," and there is a science to that kind of comedy. Many people cannot keep up with fast-paced farces as actors talk over each others' lines.
On Friday at the ProArts Playhouse, Ken Ludwig's "Lend Me A Tenor" opened to a sold-out house in spite of the Fourth Friday chaos. When Tenor works, it is very, very funny - but when it misses, it requires a little patience to get back into Ludwig's intended groove.
It's a Catch-22 of sorts. If "Tenor" doesn't run at 100 miles per hour, each line can be heard clearly. But at 60 miles, without the actors talking over each other, it's just not as funny. Mark Collmer, as Saunders, the general manager of the Cleveland Opera House, has the timing correct. Even when he trips over his own words, his performance is hysterical because he barely takes a breath, and at times appears physically and mentally exhausted. Intended or not, it only adds to the humor.
Sharleen Lagattuta and John L. Mendez in “Lend Me a Tenor,” showing through March 10 at ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.
JACK GRACE photo
Equally hysterical is Jennifer Rose as Maria, the wife of opera star Tito Mirelli, played by John L. Mendez. Rose's physical choices, comical Italian accent and constant bubbling fury, picks the production up to that lightening pace with every entrance she makes. Mendez's performance, though authentic and admirable, is aided greatly when opposite Collmer and Rose. Sharleen Lagattuta as Diana, his soprano co-star (almost), also has the timing down, and her scenes with "Il Stupendo" are some of the funniest in the show. Lagattuta has an on stage fearlessness and she is always a joy to watch no matter how small the part.
The "Tenor" chaos ensues when Mirelli is overly sedated to induce a nap before he has to perform. Max (Tom Althouse), Saunders' assistant, must now play the role of Othello to appease the sold-out opera crowd and its lady bountiful, Julia (Barbara Sedano).
Now awake and in black-face and costume, the confusion heightens as two Mirelli's run rampant in Cleveland. Althouse's performance is funny and it will only get funnier, but like Mendez, his laughs would be aided by that break neck pace. Max's "fiancee," Maggie, played by Kristin Jones, adds a spark to the scenes, and both actors are extremely adept at physical comedy.
"Lend Me a Tenor" by Ken Ludwig, directed by Lisa Teichner, continues through March 10 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Reserved seating tickets are $20. Ask about the ProArts kamaaina discount nights (with valid Hawaii ID). For reservations or more information, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartspacific.com.
Many of the biggest laughs of the night are the physical bits by Althouse and Jones, but when the verbal humor clicks, "Tenor" becomes a laugh riot. Director Lisa Teichner and her cast are very close, and the production will continue to get more and more entertaining with each performance.
The moment when "Tenor" works flawlessly is at show's end when the cast (particularly Lee Garrow's movement as the Bellhop) reenacts the entire story without speaking, all in about two minutes. Whatever magic happened in that moment should be tapped into, and if it is, ProArts' "Tenor" will be a non-stop laugh revolution.