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May the Farce Be with You

North Coast Repertory Theatre opens its 30th season with the madcap hilarity of “Lend Me a Tenor.”

If the economy, the blackout, the weather and the interminable political wrangling have got you down, the pick-me-up you need is a good old-fashioned, hyperkinetic, door-slamming, mistaken-identity farce.

Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor, nominee for seven Tony Awards in 1989, is just the ticket to chase away the blahs and blues. The North Coast Repertory production, the first of its 30th anniversary season, is a hoot and a holler.

Under the hair-trigger-timed direction of Matthew Wiener, the cast is spectacular: fast and furious, emotionally operatic and hilariously funny. I know someone who limped in three days after an appendectomy. Big mistake. This is one thoroughly side-splitting show.

The neck-snapping storyline, as in most farces, borders on the ridiculous, but the oversized characters, with their antics, accents and crackerjack physical comedy, will keep you roaring despite the hard-to-swallow plot complications.

The comedy is set 1934, in a chi-chi hotel suite, where members of the Cleveland Grand Opera are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli, aka “Il Stupendo,” to sing Verdi’s “Otello.”

He’s late, he’s sick, he’s on the verge of divorce. The company manager is apoplectic. And then, Merelli inadvertently overdoses on tranquilizers and is out cold, comatose, apparently dead. The crazed impresario (riotous Ted Barton), along with his sputtering assistant, cook up a cockamamie plan. Since no one in Cleveland has actually seen Merelli, they decide to have Max, the manic gofer, don Merelli’s costume and blackface, and stand in as the Moor. Never mind that slim, trim, ever-amusing (and delightfully well-voiced) Christopher M. Williams as Max is half the width and girth of the overblown Merelli, hysterically portrayed by Bernard S. Kopsho. No one seems to notice.

The singing bellhop (amusing Albert Park) is bamboozled. Three drooling, love-starved women are totally fooled and enamored: the haughty gala chairwoman (funny/deadpan Jill Drexler); the wide-eyed but seductive ingénue (engaging Courtney Corey), Max’s maybe-fiancée; and the ambitious, predatory soprano (always comic Jacque Wilke). Some of the gals seduce Max; some actually wind up with Merelli. And then, his spitting spitfire of a wife (uproarious Jessica John), who left him in Act 1, returns with a vengeance in Act 2. Mayhem and hilarity ensue.

At the end, the ingénue has her much-desired fling; Max gets the girl of his dreams (again); the Italians are reconciled—loudly—and all’s well that ends (farcically) well. Just to put a cherry atop the whipped cream confection of this fun-filled trifle, the curtain calls are a one-minute breakneck rehash of the entire plot.

It’s all played out on Marty Burnett’s dazzling, black-and-white art deco set, in pitch- (and period-) perfect costumes (Sonia Lerner); each woman looks outstanding in her haute couture outfits—and her undergarments.

So, what’s not to like? You know you could use a little comic relief. Loosen your belt for the belly-laughs. Solana Beach beckons.

Lend Me a Tenor runs through Oct. 9 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach.

Performances are Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets ($34-43) are available at 858-481-1055 or northcoastrep.org

 

 

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