University Theatre at N.C. State saved the best of its three summer offerings until last. The knee-slapping TheatreFest 2006 production of two-time Tony Award® nominee Ken Ludwig’s hysterically funny backstage comedy Lend Me a Tenor is a comic juggernaut, smartly and stylishly staged by NCSU faculty member Fred Gorelick, with an absolutely fabulous set of farceurs jabbing all the right comic buttons at exactly the right moment. This all-star assembly of some of the Triangle’s finest actors and actresses superbly reproduces all the hilarious tics and twitches of Ludwig’s quirky characters.
Director Fred Gorelick not only gets crackerjack characterizations from each and every cast member; he sets a fast and furious pace that leaves none of the seven doors on scenic and costume designer John C. McIlwee’s splendid set unslammed. McIlwee not only recreates the sitting room and bedroom of a posh hotel suite in Cleveland, Ohio, in glorious detail; but he also outfits the actors in a simply dazzling array of 1954 fashions, which include furs and formal wear and some of the most provocative feminine undergarments outside of a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
On opening night (June 15th), Lend Me a Tenor had the audience chuckling from the very first line of dialogue and ultimately left the first-nighters breathless with laughter.
Greg Flowers, who recently delighted local audiences with his antic impersonations of aging alcoholic ham actor and incorrigible philanderer George Hay in the Towne Players of Garner and Raleigh Little Theatre presentations of Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, bolsters his upstart claim to the title of Triangle’s Funniest Man with his impish impersonation of world-famous Italian opera star Tito Morelli, nicknamed “Il Stupendo” for his prodigious singing and acting talent and gargantuan appetite for food and his legion of female admirers.
Booked to play his signature role of Otello in a September 1954 Cleveland Grand Opera Company benefit production of Verdi’s opera, Morelli not only arrives late, but also skips the final rehearsal for that evening’s performance, much to the consternation of natty but nervous company general manager Henry Saunders (Gregor McElvogue) and his all-purpose gopher Max (Curtis Kirkhoff).
Temperamental Tito complains that he is indisposed due to overeating and overdrinking on the long train ride to Cleveland, but he claims that he will recover in time to be the star attraction in the most important production in the history of the local opera company. However, Tito’s wandering eye, in transit and for a buxom waitress in a local hash house, has also aroused the ire of his wife Maria (Marilee Spell).
Besides Henry, Max, and Maria, other competitors for Tito’s attention (amorous and otherwise) include Saunders’ starstruck daughter (and Max’s girlfriend) Maggie (Meisha C. Gourley), who has a huge schoolgirl crush on Tito; oversexed local diva Diana (Mariette Booth), who will quite literally do anything to convince Tito to arrange an audition for her at The Met; the aging but still glamorous Julia (Janis Coville), the dressed-to-thrill chairman of the local opera guild; and an irritatingly intrusive and infernally persistent singing Bellhop (Matthew-Jason Willis), with an autograph book and the irrepressible urge to ask Tito for an impromptu tryout.
While Greg Flowers is making the Great Man a grand figure of fun, Gregor McElvogue is royally entertaining ticket-buyers with his hissy fits as the English-accented high-strung Saunders. Curtis Kirkhoff and Meisha Gourley are highly amusing as shy, self-conscious Max and hot-to-trot Maggie; and Marilee Spell is a scream as Tito’s buxom but increasingly insecure wife Maria, whose volcanic temper finally erupts when she finds one too many strange women squirreled away in Tito’s closet.
Mariette Booth’s shameless come-ons, which send Tito’s temperature soaring, are another source of amusement; Janis Coville provokes bellylaughs with Julia’s clumsy but unsuccessful efforts to arouse Tito’s ardor; and Matthew-Jason Willis turns his cameo role as the Bellhop into a scene-stealing star-making turn.
Lend Me a Tenor boasts the funniest cast, top to bottom, that Triangle theater has seen in many, many a day. Everyone is funny, and the laughter builds throughout the evening. Moreover, director Fred Gorelick whips Ken Ludwig’s comic soufflé into a piece de resistance, and scenic and costume designer John McIlwee and lighting designer Terri L. Janney once again handsomely dress the Thompson Theatre stage for a most-impressive evening of comedy that concludes TheatreFest 2006 on a very high note indeed. Bravo!
University Theatre at N.C. State presents Lend Me a Tenor Friday, June 16, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 18, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, June 21-23, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 25, at 3 p.m. in Thompson Theatre, corner of Dunn Ave. and Jensen Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina $14-$16 ($6 NCSU students and $12-$14 senior citizens, students, NCSU faculty, staff, and alumni). 919/515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=22089&event_val=TENR. University Theatre at N.C. State: http://www.fis.ncsu.edu/University_Players/ [inactive 7/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5331.