Ken Ludwig's explosively funny boudoir farce and backstage comedy Lend Me a Tenor, which ran 14 months on Broadway, won two Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and three Outer Critics Circle Awards. The current Towne Players of Garner production makes it easy to see why.
The Towne Players' uproarious rendition of Lend Me a Tenor is community theater at its best. Working with a shoestring budget and unpaid part-time players with demanding daytime jobs, Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt creates a delightful comic soufflé. She not only gets crisp characterizations from every cast member, but she coaches best-ever efforts from many of the amateur actors and actresses who have heretofore played only minor roles with this up-and-coming theater company.
A boudoir farce, such Lend Me a Tenor, requires numerous doors to slam as the lightning-paced action ebbs and flows. The Towne Players' set, jointly designed by technical director Jeffrey Nugent and director Beth Honeycutt, gives the performers two big rooms to traverse and six solid doors to slam.
This vivid recreation of the garish Art Deco décor of an expensive hotel suite in Cleveland even creates prime playing areas on the cramped stage of The Garner Historic Auditorium. The outstanding set combines with a colorful and the show's unusually elaborate (but uncredited) costumes and Scott Honeycutt's lighting and sound design to create an effervescent atmosphere for farce.
Brian Martin and Janet Doughty are hilarious as Max and Maggie, young lovers who cannot quite connect. He is an aspiring opera singer who must overcome his innate shyness before he can take center stage. She is Max's spunky but vaguely dissatisfied girlfriend and the head-strong daughter of Saunders (Tim Wiest), the high-handed and high-strung manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera, which recently invited internationally renowned opera singer Tito Merelli (Jeff Nugent) to play the title role of the mad moor in a benefit performance of Otello by Giuseppe Verdi.
When "Il Stupendo," an inveterate drinker and womanizer, unexpectedly brings his wife, Maria (Beth Honeycutt), with him, the stage is set for a knockdown, drag-out fight. Maria thinks Tito has a new fling stashed in every closet, and her worst suspicions are confirmed when she opens a door and finds Maggie holding her fur coat.
But there is an innocent explanation: Maggie has a schoolgirl crush on the world-famous tenor. But Cleveland Grand Opera diva and resident round heels Diana (Meg Dietrich) and oversexed opera guild chairman Julia (Frances Stanley) not only have designs on Tito, but the womanly wiles to make those designs come to fruition.
Add a shamelessly intrusive hero-worshipping Bellhop with a Kodak (Rob Smith) and the stage is set for a delightful evening of attempted assignations. After the temperamental Maria finds Maggie and walks out in a huff, suspecting the worst from her frequently faithless husband, a distraught Tito accidentally takes overdose of drugs and wine that puts him in a coma that his horrified hosts mistake for death.
Rather than cancel the benefit performance, and give back the $50,000 in ticket sales, the cheapskate Saunders searches desperately for a last-minute replacement (hence the play's title: Lend Me a Tenor). And the fun of the evening has only just begun.
Brian Martin and Janet Doughty give passionate performances as Max and Maggie, Jeff Nugent and Beth Honeycutt are a hoot as Tito and Maria, Italy's frantically gesticulating version of the Battling Bickersons.
Tim Wiest is highly amusing as the sputtering blowhard Saunders; and Meg Dietrich is very, very funny as Diana, a sultry soprano determined to sleep her way to the top. Frances Stanley makes the most of her moments as Julia, the aging but still amorous opera guild president; but Rob Smith steals the show with his Jerry Lewis-like antics as the nosy Bellhop who won't take no for an answer.
Thursday night's performance closed to a well-deserved standing ovation. No doubt it was only one of many that this outstanding community-theater production of Lend Me a Tenor received during its all-too-brief run. The Towne Players present Lend Me a Tenor Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 24-26, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 West Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 seniors). 919/779-6144. http://www.towneplayers.org/.