A knee-slapping Lend Me a Tenor at PC

Hilarious high notes
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 1, 2012

OPERATIC Saunders, Caplin, and DeSisto.

As hilarious as the race for the Republican presidential nomination is, even that is no competition for Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor, the nonstop, modern classic knee-slapper that has become a mainstay of theater seasons from the regionals to high school auditoriums.

The current production, directed by Jimmy Calitri at Providence College's Angell Blackfriars Theatre (through February 5) is doing a good job making sure that no funny bones in the audience remain untickled.

The time is 1934, the place a sumptuous hotel suite in Cleveland. Preparations are underway for a gala 10th anniversary celebration for the local opera house, centering around an appearance by star Italian tenor Tito Merelli (Daniel Caplin), known as "Il Stupendo."

"Il Stupido" would be more like it, considering the ensuing mayhem, with many others vying for the title. In time-honored farcical fashion, doors get slammed, identities get mixed, and faces get slapped, as everyone is trying to deceive somebody, which means practically everybody contributes to the confusion.

It all starts, of course, as a love story. Max (Patrick Mark Saunders) wants to marry Maggie (Aubrey Dion), but she has been refusing, wanting first to have "a fling" before she settles down. To make matters worse, her father is Max's boss, Henry Saunders (Jeff DeSisto), the opera company's general manager.

To his credit, Tito is a friendly and helpful fellow, encouraging Max's dream to become a great tenor himself. His amiability, however, extends most generously to his admirers of the opposite sex, of which he has many. Maggie is one; Diana (Marisa Urgo) is another, his soprano in that night's performance; and yet another is Julia (Erin Fusco), a passionately appreciative opera board member. Thrown into the mix is an admiring bellhop (Kevin Lynch) who keeps popping up to audition with a few more notes from an aria.

Tito's wife wasn't expected to accompany him on this link of his tour, but here she is, understandably possessive. The plight of Maria (Grace Curley) and her challenge is clear when she angrily describes their recent restaurant visit in which he kept ordering not because he was hungry but because "he wantsa more bosoms," as in having their top-heavy waitress lean over their table again to serve him.

With all these demands on Tito's attention, at times there are various people hiding in his bedroom wardrobe, from Maggie ostensibly seeking an autograph to Diana wrapped in a towel.

Poor Tito. All he wants is to rest a while before that evening's performance. What he gets is an accidental double dose of sleeping pills, which convinces Saunders and Max that he is dead. That's not such a bad thing, since it gives Max the opportunity to pretend to be the stupendous one, disguised in elaborate makeup, and perform Tito's role in Pagliacci that evening. (Ludwig originally had Max and Tito performing Otello, in blackface, but since that's a no-no these days, they both are dressed as the eponymous clown, a funnier sight gag as well as being politically correct.)

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