From left: Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shalhoub, Justin Bartha and Jan Maxwell. Photo by Sara Krulwich.
BOTTOM LINE: As long as you don't expect non-stop hilarity, you'll be in for a pleasant evening.
Editor's note: Scott and Dan saw this play together– here is their joint review.
Scott: There is much that I liked in this revival of Ken Ludwig's 1989 farce Lend Me A Tenor. The creative aspects of the show are absolutely top notch. An incredibly well-appointed set with five slammable "farce-approved" doors is the perfect place for hilarity to ensue. The costumes, both character- and era- appropriate, ensure that the play stays grounded in an identifiable time and place, and also provide the necessary clarity and credibility for the central conflict to hold. Lights and sound and all that good stuff are equally well done.
Dan: I pretty much agree with you here. My one minor complaint- the set (a 1930s hotel room) doesn't extend all the way up. While this normally wouldn't bother me, for some reason there is an odd blue light that extends above the edge of the set. I have no idea why it is there, but it is distracting. But other than that, the design elements are great. Especially the costume in which Brooke Adams makes her entrance. Speaking of which- what did you think of the cast?
Scott: In general? The all-star cast of theatrical pros inhabits the larger than life characters with total believability. Tony Shalhoub (from TV's Monk ) is appropriately snarky; Justin Bartha (of Hangover fame) is convincingly quirky; Mary Catherine Garrison is delightfully pixyish; Jennifer Laura Thompson is perfectly seductive; Anthony LaPaglia (TV's Without A Trace) is gruff and endearing; and Brooke Adams and Jay Klaitz round out the cast well. And, for the glorious twenty minutes (ten in Act 1 and ten in Act 2) that she is onstage, Jan Maxwell is distractingly, fantastically and brilliantly hilarious. Literally the moment she steps onstage the energy level bumps up about five points. Sadly, when she leaves…
Dan: I know! Jan Maxwell is far and away the best part of the show. In this respect, Lend Me A Tenor is a great lesson in the difference that true comedic brilliance can make. There is no bad performance in the play, but it really doesn't begin until Jan Maxwell enters. And she has a line in Act 2 that is quite possibly the funniest moment currently on or off Broadway. Not to oversell, but I'd say she is the reason to see this play. But the three leading men have most of the stage time. Shalhoub plays an opera presenter in Cleveland who brings a world-famous Italian tenor Tito Merelli (LaPaglia) to town. Bartha is the assistant assigned with making sure the testy tenor gets where he is supposed to be. Maxwell plays Merelli's hot-blooded Italian wife. Unfortunately, she just isn't on stage enough. And without her, the play is merely pleasant- sometimes funny, but rarely hilarious.
Scott: Exactly. Which brings up my main– well, really my only– quibble with the play: pacing. A farce's success depends on how well tension is created and sustained, and that is invariably tied to how well the narrative clips along, leaving those not paying attention (or those too distracted by the text messages they shouldn't be reading in the theatre) in its wake. I felt that director Stanley Tucci wanted to make sure the play moved fast enough, but not too fast. As if to ensure that anyone only paying half attention was also kept in the loop. A fine strategy I suppose, but unfortunately you can't have it both ways. For those of us completely committed, the play never really takes full flight. There are moments that feel very tight and well-executed. But then again, I often found myself trying to will more energy onto the stage so the stakes would be higher, so I would then care more and laugh more. The great moments interspersed throughout the evening inevitably draw attention to the times when the energy bottoms out and the actors have to start the journey back up the hill. But to their credit, they keep making it back up.
Dan: Well, I'm not so sure Lend Me A Tenor is the best farce ever. Some might even argue it isn't even true farce, even though it has the requisite mistaken identities and a few narrow escapes through slammed doors. But I agree that the action often drags in this production. However, Act 2 picks up speed a bit, and by the time two of the men share the stage wearing identical makeup and costumes, the play is thoroughly enjoyable even without Maxwell. But it takes awhile to get there. Scott- you said after the show that you were never surprised, and I think that is exactly the issue. Whether it is the play, the direction, or the performances, (and I think it is a mix of everything) nothing ever took me by surprise.
If you're looking for a comedy, Lend Me A Tenor is certainly a decent one. There is an added bonus too– after it ends, the entire cast literally runs through the full action of the play in about two minutes. As I said, Jan Maxwell is alone worth a ticket. And to be honest, I enjoyed it far more than A Behanding in Spokane or God of Carnage (the two other non-musical comedies currently on Broadway).
Scott: Well, I haven't seen either of those, but all in all, Lend Me A Tenor is an enjoyable evening of theatre with plenty of laughs. Just not as many as there could be. So…walk, don't run to the Music Box Theater.
(Lend Me A Tenor plays at the Music Box Theater, 239 West 45th Street. Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday at 8pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $86.50 - $126.50 and can be purchased at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. $26.50 general rush tickets (2 per person) are available the day of the performance, when the box office opens. For more information visit www.lendmeatenoronbroadway.com.)