Encore Theatre hits all the right notes with 'Lend Me a Tenor'
Which makes me appreciate Encore Theatre’s knockout production of Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” all the more.
In the show, world-famous Italian tenor Tito Mirelli (Brian P. Sage) arrives with his fiery wife Maria (Angela Miller) in Cleveland for a special performance as Othello. When a misunderstanding causes the marriage to implode, opera company manager Saunders (Paul Hopper) and his assistant Max (Sebastian Gerstner) scramble to figure out how to satisfy an audience that’s expecting, but won’t get, Mirelli. To this end, aspiring singer Max steps into Mirelli’s role, hoping to fool everyone—but things don’t exactly go as planned.
Part of what sets this “Tenor” apart from others is the ensemble work of its exactly-right cast, which features top-notch local talent, and the masterful direction of Tobin Hissong (who’s usually among those on stage). The production runs like a well-oiled machine, maintaining an appropriately brisk pace while still allowing the actors room to breathe and play. Plus, it feels like the performers are having a ball with the material, and each other, and that almost always provides a show with good energy.
Miller and Sage are fantastic as the mercurial, high-drama Italian couple (their accents and rapport will charm your socks off), and Sage’s stand-alone work as an increasingly baffled stranger in a strange land earns loads of laughs. Tara Tomcsik-Husak, playing a vampy, ambitious singer who wants Mirelli to give her career a boost, exudes sensuality, but also imbues Diana with humor and compassion.
Hopper and Barbara Coven (who plays the opera company’s chairwoman) are a pleasure to watch, as always, as are Thalia Schramm, who plays Saunders’ smitten-with-Tito daughter, Maggie, and Elliott Styles, the sassy, opera-loving bellhop. And Gerstner, with Clark Kent-like glasses, cashes in (and then some) on every possible comedic opportunity with a playful zest that’s irresistible.
Leo Babcock’s set - featuring two rooms of Mirelli’s hotel suite - is among the best I’ve yet seen at Encore, fleshed out nicely with Schramm’s props. Daniel C. Walker designed the show’s lighting, and Sharon Larkey Urick hit all the right notes with the show’s costumes (Tomcsik-Husak’s shimmering blue seduction dress, Miller’s traveling clothes, and Coven’s “Chrysler Building” dress all deserve extra accolades).
But beyond all design and performance issues lies two basic questions: Did the show really make you laugh? Did you have a good time? And the answer to both, in regard to "Tenor," is a resounding “yes” (despite the fact that I entered the theater itching to watch the Michigan-Kansas game). So Encore fans (and others) should absolutely not miss this production. It may be the first non-musical to play at the Encore, but if “Tenor” is the sign of what’s to come, allow me be the first to yell, “More!”
For tickets, see the Encore website.