Lend Me A Tenor

(Villanova Players)


I must start this review with an apology to both the Villanova Players and the Bris Vegas theatre-going crowd. Due to technical hiccups and a hectic work schedule, I was only able to see the second-last performance of this their final show for 2004. Which unfortunately means that it is now over. So I guess this article will be a “review” in the absolutely true sense of the word.

I went and saw Lend Me a Tenor for two reasons. The first as a reviewer was innocent enought. The second was more nefarious. For it was in a production of the very same play back on 31 December 1999 that I made my debut at the Brisbane Arts Theatre. (See, I sound like a theatre w***er less than two paragraphs in. That’s a new record!) In plain speak, I played Maria. It was fun, and a good production to boot, so I was keen to see how the Villanova Players would stage it. OK, I confess. I just really wanted to see if the woman playing Maria did a more convincing Italian accent than me.

Let me explain. The play, written by Ken Ludwig, is a farce about opera. The main character, Max, is a dogsbody for an opera company managed by Henry Saunders. They’re bringing out the famous Italian tenor Tito Morelli to sing at a special charity performance of Otello. Max likes to sing opera himself, and tries to impress Saunders’ daughter Maggie. However she only has eyes for the tenor, otherwise known as “Il Stupendo”. Morelli arrives with his fiery wife Maria, they fight, and the tenor appears to top himself. To avoid a public relations disaster, Saunders forces Max to dress up as Othello (complete with black face) and go on, pretending to be Morelli. Hilarity then ensues with two Othellos running about, dodging Saunders, each other and some very “excited” fans (including a hotel porter).

It’s one of the better farce comedies I’ve seen. The writing is sharp and funny, the pace is frenetic, and it has all the elements of farce slamming doors, people hidden in cupboards and bathrooms, mistaken identities, trousers round the ankles, that sort of thing.

Overall, Villanova did it admirably. They successfully transposed the play from its original setting of 1940s Cleveland, Ohio, to modern day Brisbane, Queensland. That gets rid of costuming dramas and also solves the issue about accents and consistency except of course for the two actors playing Italians! I quite like the original setting (remember, everything I say is through rose-tinted glasses!) but it works well in the modern day. And hey, it’s a farce, so you leave your sense of logic at the door anyway.

Dean Patrick was a good choice for the lead role of Max. He’s the everyman, trying to impress the girl and improve his status in life. Patrick got that across and he was also a lovely singer, what little bits we heard of him. Michael Byrnes was suitably tense as the perpetually wound-up Henry Saunders but I felt the delivery of some of his lines could have been sharper. Anna Woodall and Rhyll Davis worked well as the yin and yang of female sexual expression. (Woah, big words). Anna as Maggie sweet, caring, wanting her encounter with an opera singer to be an ecstatic moment of bliss and Rhyll as Diana, the vampy soprano keen to use her sexual wiles on Tito to get out of Brisbane and onto the New York stage.

As for Christopher Lynagh as Tito Morelli himself well, see here I’m spoiled for a partial opinion. The man who played Tito Morelli in the version I was in was actually a) Italian (or close enough) and b) a professional singer, fully trained in opera. But to Lynagh’s credit, he gives more than enough to make you believe he’s the hapless, over-indulging opera star. His complete confusion at events in the second act works well, but sometimes his Italian accent blurred some of his killer lines of dialogue. Catherine Hegarty was great as Tito’s long-suffering wife Maria it made me remember why I liked the role (however small it was). Robert Gettons as the fawning hotel porter and Nancy Johnston as the nosy Opera Company’s chairwoman rounded out the cast.

The set, a hotel suite, was simple and effective although there were a few unsteady doors and the odd breaking of the invisible middle wall. (But we’ve all done that). The lights and sound worked well, and congrats to director Brian Cannon and the production team.

Villanova Players have this year been using the theatre facilities at the Morningside Campus of the Southbank Institute of TAFE for their productions. Chatting to some of the theatre’s members at interval and after the show, I found out that they involve the students during term to help with production, lights, sound, costumes etc. I was really encouraged by this, and I reckon Villanova and the TAFE people deserve a pat on the back for forming such a partnership. In an age when many community theatres are struggling for audiences (thank you DVDs and X-Boxes), it’s great to see new ways of keeping it alive emerge.

Again, I apologise that this review comes after the fact. However Villanova have already announced their program for next year, and it looks good. If they continue producing shows the calibre of Lend Me A Tenor I think we’re in for a good year.

And while we’re shamelessly plugging 2005 shows, you should all come and see “Miss Bosnia” on at the Arts Theatre in February. It’s going to be great. It’s got a fabulous cast…..SHAMELESS! Completely shameless!

Happy Holidays everyone!

— Natalie Bochenski
(Performance seen: Fri 3rd December 2004)