LEND ME A TENORBy Ken Ludwig
Director – Ash Robbins
Stage Manager – Katie Dedman
Set Design – Chris Berthelot
Costume Design – Gary James
Sound Design – Amy Garrett
Light Design – Carrie Campbell
Property Design – Michelle Free
Max – Eddie Herring
Maggie – Vanessa Welch
Saunders – Bryan Patrick
Tito – Sterling Gafford
Maria – Sherri Small
Bellhop – Glenn Averoigne
Diana – Kerri Peters-Althaus
Julia – Susan Wagner
Reviewed Performance: 4/27/2014
Reviewed by Amy Thurmond, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The company’s general manager, Saunders, along with his devoted assistant, Max, are sweating bullets right from the get-go, waiting in a Cleveland hotel suite for the arrival of the Tito Morelli, the proclaimed greatest tenor of his generation. He is there to sing the lead in Verdi’s Otello for the opera guild’s annual event. Saunders’ daughter and Max’s girlfriend, Maggie, is just one of the gals also awaiting Tito’s arrival.
Upon his arrival, Tito is cranky. His longsuffering wife, Maria, in tow, the couple makes a feisty entrance and sets the insanity in motion. Max is assigned to care for Tito’s every need and make sure he gets to the opera house on time. Some tranquilizers, a comatose tenor, and a loony idea are all that’s needed for hilarious chaos to ensue.
The hotel suite had two rooms, a boudoir and a sitting room, and included several entrances and exits. The set was built for endurance and frenzy, and it was most certainly done successfully. Many props to set designer, Chris Berthlot and crew, for a major feat accomplished. In fact, the set was as much a character in this riotous work of art as the eight named characters! Stark and minimalist set dressings, solid focal pieces of furniture, a period radio and telephone and some loud, slamming doors did their jobs and set the feel of the show. The buttercream walls with burgundy doors and accents and art deco paintings gave just enough suggestion.
Set in the 1930’s, costumes for this show were lovely and overall very apropos. The shoes worn by Maggie and Diana were favorites. Be on the lookout! Max’s pants in Act I are a hit with their high waist and pinstripes, and Saunders’ tux was worn well. Some of the accessories seemed mismatched, but the sparkle factor made up for that. Julia’s silver sequined dress was stunning and made me wonder if it was a vintage period. The lingerie was perfectly fitted and flattering on both Maggie and Diana. The “penciled in” seamed stockings were fabulous, too! A round of applause for costume designer, Gary James! Combined with some grand period preshow music, and just enough warm lighting to make the buttercream walls glow, the sound and light designers, Amy Garrett and Carrie Campbell, pulled together a sentimental 1930’s feel.
Eddy Herring perfectly portrayed Max, the meek and humble assistant, the head-over-heels for the boss’s daughter guy who secretly desires to break out of his ordinary life. He gave an almost Clark Kent / Superman / Richie Cunningham heart to this genuine character. Herring was bright in his performance, with his eyes always acting and his ears always perked. His energy drove the show like a locomotive. Max’s scenes with Maggie were a bit labored, but scenes with Tito (Sterling Gafford) created memorable moments worthy of note. Herring and Gafford demonstrated the kind of vibrant camaraderie that lifelong friends share. Their musicality was a hit with the audience both literally and figuratively. Herring’s comedic timing was admirable and helped bridge the gap in other actors’ portrayals. His Max was one for the books.
The role of Maggie was wistfully portrayed by Vanessa Welch. The naivety of the character she created was most certainly genuine in play. Her facial expressions and gestures, though, were melodramatic and awkward. Had this show in a larger venue, Welch’s overall performance would have been a smash. In FCT’s black box space, Welch’s quips and flutters, pulls and puckers, just came off way overdone. Praiseworthy were her scenes with her Maggie’s father. Being comfortable in one’s skin was essential for this character, and Welch was most certainly running strong in that zone. She portrayed the sexy kitten side of Maggie with confidence and delight.
Bryan Patrick took on the formidable role of the stressed out Opera GM Saunders. Teetering on the verge of anger throughout most of the show, Patrick barked a majority of his dialogue at the top of his lungs. His inflections seemed to run on extreme high or mediocre low. Throughout Act I, there was no shading in his performance. But he showed a bit more variation in Act II. He shared tender scenes with both Herring and Welch. Patrick most certainly developed a commanding presence. In the moments of utter chaos on the stage (some of the most fun moments), Patrick kept it lively and believable. In those moments, his barking worked effectively.
Portraying Opera star, Tito Morelli, Sterling Gafford delivered in every way possible. He maintained a macho presence that one might expect from an arrogant yet genuine celebrity. Gafford used all of his faculties to create Tito, and garnered positive reaction from his audience throughout the show. His spot-on timing, his simple yet strategic gesturing and his impeccable comedic skills combined to produce a Tito that won’t soon be forgotten. His first scene with Maria (Sherri Small) instantly conveyed that love/hate relationship. His best scenes were shared with Gafford. They were genuine and full of emotion, almost like brothers. He proved to be “Il Stupendo”!
Glenn Averoigne meowed his way through the role of Bellhop. He was caddy, presumptuous and downright bitchy…everything you expect in a bellhop! Averoigne stole splendid moments in the show and never looked back. A simple raised eyebrow, a cocky lift of his chin so as to throw his nose in the air (certainly at the tip he received) or a simple quick pivot as he turned to exit made even the tiniest of gestures quite effective. His dry wit was something of sheer delight. One might say, Averoigne played well with others.
Rounding out the cast, three lovely character actresses took on three vastly different roles. Tito’s wife, Maria, played by Sherri Small, endures a great deal due to his wandering eye. Small’s portrayal captures just that! She huffed, she stomped, she yelled – and she loved. Small struggled to maintain that Italian accent but made for it with her ability to convey her passion for Tito, and that was something special to see.
Kerri Peters-Althaus played the opear’s prima donna, Diana. Peters-Althaus’ take on seductive and driven came off as arrogant. The legs on that girl were magnifico, and she rocked some lingerie without a doubt. Her performance, though somewhat underdeveloped, was even and well maintained from start to finish. Like Welch, Peters-Althaus was definitely comfortable in her own skin. That confidence is genuine.
With spit curls precisely placed on her forehead, Susan Wagner gave the character of Julia a period flair just walking in the door. Her Carolyn Appleby’ish voice worked well for role as Chairwoman of the Opera Guild. She was haughty, a bit shrill and star struck. Wagner rounded out the ensemble cast with class. She was graceful, proud and firmly pushy (what you would expect from an Opera Guild’s Chairwoman).
Taking on the formidable task of directing, Ash Robbins succeeded nicely. Aside from the role of director, she truly had to use those talents and then some. Beyond staging her actors within scenes, she had to block the rapid and frequent entrances and exits throughout the entire show. That chore alone placed her in the role of choreographer, and she excelled there as well, providing the many layers within scenes. The zany staging was a treat. There was a lively energy transferred into this cast, filtered from Robbins through each of her players and crew members. As a team, they made it work!
Frisco Community Theatre’s production of Lend Me A Tenor is full of laughs and passion. Make time to go see it and know your time spent will be well worth the price of a ticket. Add to that a LIVE curtain speech also filled with passion, and you’ve got a great date night, girls’ night out, guys’ night out…Just go see it. You will laugh all the way through it!
Frisco Community Theatre
In the Frisco Discovery Center
8004 North Dallas Parkway, Suite 200
Frisco, Texas 75034
Runs through May 11
Friday - Saturday at 8:00pm, with matinees Saturday, May at 10 and Sunday, May 11 at 2:30pm.
Ticket prices are $20.00 for evening shows, $19.00 for matinees, plus $1.50 per ticket if paying by credit card. There are discounts for Seniors over 60, students and military.
Call 972-370-2266 or go to www.friscocommunitytheatre.com for information and to purchase tickets.