What good would a farce be without doors to slam? There are a half-dozen on the George Street Playhouse stage, where “Lend Me a Tenor” is racing through the month at madcap pace, and they are firmly slammed with great regularity. Under David Saint’s keen and swift direction, the comic treasures behind each door reveal themselves with giddy clarity.
Ken Ludwig’s deliciously ribald romp is a fragile piece of old-fashioned theater. When the concept works, as it does on the New Brunswick stage, it’s a singular joy to behold. The eternal twist of classic farce is mistaken identity. This time around, the timeworn gimmick is channeled into a hilarious tandem turn that finds two actors in black face, prepping for a performance of Verdi’s “Otello.”
Peter Maloney as the frustrated manager of a Cleveland opera company reveals a balding pate capable of turning from boiling red to bursting point. Maloney defines bluster and panic with great comic relish. Romain Fruge plays his hapless assistant and stage-struck gofer with a nice balance of hapless confusion and manipulation.
Patrick Quinn invests Tito Merelli, a world-renowned Italian tenor known as Il Stupendo, with gusto and continental romance, despite a few dialect lapses. Fruge and Quinn unite in a duet from “Don Carlo” that for a glorious moment puts the laughs on hold to give the audience a two-tenor treat.
Garrett Long as a comely ingenue runs about in her lacy scanties, enhanced by an irresistible twinkle in her eye. Alison Fraser acts a seductive and sultry soprano in the timeless tradition of theatrical dumb blondes. As the tenor’s histrionic wife, Mary Testa breathes fire with scorching fury.
Only misfire is Michael Cyril Creighton’s perf as the enterprising and pushy bellhop. There is great fun to be found here in a small role with potential to foster big gags, but it’s not realized by this novice actor.
Saint, who staged the first post-Broadway production in Los Angeles in 1991 and its subsequent tour, has put his knowing mark on Ludwig’s inspired antics. The comic timing is right on the mark. The curtain call finds the actors slamming those vital doors for a last hurrah in a rapid-fire playback of the action at breakneck speed.
The tidy, little plush hotel suite set smacks of 1930s art deco glamour. Costumes sharply define the flirty decade, and the sound and lighting designs are clean and aptly functional.