Bay City Players Tickle the Funny Bone in ‘LEND ME A TENOR’

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 876   By: Robert E Martin

14th March, 2019     0

When it comes to the theatrical art of farce, Ken Ludwig's hilarious 1986 stage play Lend Me a Tenor  decidedly qualifies as an exemplary representation of the genre. Layered with a crust of wry humor  throughout, the 9-time Tony Award nominated comedy has been revived locally by Bay City Players with a cleverly rendered production under the direction of Jessica McFarland that will run from March 22-24 & 28-31st.

Utilizing a laundry list of classic madcap set-ups such as mistaken identities, room swaps, excess elixirs, hilarious misunderstandings, and bawdy overtone - not to mention quirky characters wonderfully unaware of what's happening around them - Lend Me a Tenor - is constructed through a first act that sets up the narrative through a series of happenstances that layers one misunderstanding after another, while the second act skillfully unravels the highly-exaggerated consequences and reverberating after-shocks of these earlier set-ups that tickles the funny-bone.

Centered around world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli, who has signed on to play the lead at a Cleveland opera company in the fall of 1934, he arrives late and through a set of crazy circumstances, passes out after mixing wine with a huge dose of tranquilizers. Believing that the divo is dead, the excitable opera manager taps his hapless assistant, an aspiring singer named Max, to suit up and replace Merelli. Meanwhile, the tenor’s jealous wife, his ambitious female co-star, Max’s young girlfriend and the flirtatious head of the opera guild are on the scene fighting - sometimes literally - for the star’s attention.

Having received 9 Tony nominations and performances produced in 29 countries, what are some of the elements to Lend Me a Tenor that director McFarland feels are most appealing to audiences?   “This show is just a great example of the genre - doors slamming, scantily clad women, comic misunderstandings, funny accents, impersonation, and a nice dose of dark humor thrown in”, she enthuses.   “It can really best be described as a romp - actors get to run around stage in completely absurd situations, and audiences get to leave the theater with smiles on their faces.”

Indeed, the title of this play is a fun on the phrase ‘Lend me a tenner (as in a $10-dollar bill) and the narrative is stuffed with both verbal and visual humor, which can pose definite challenges to a director. What are the themes and approach Jessica is taking to translating this work for the Bay City Players’ stage?

“The whole show uses these classic themes, especially mistaken identities and double entendres, that have been a staple of comedy since the dawn of theatre,” she reflects.  “We have spent a lot of time working on the lines, the subtext, and the timing of words and reactions.  I feel like a good comedy needs to be grounded in some sense of reality. We need to feel that these crazy things are happening to real people, not caricatures.  I always make sure to have a whole rehearsal dedicated to character work - motivations, relationships, the sort of things that may not be explicitly stated in the script, but add depth to the staging.”

“With a show like this, I also try to make sure that the cast feels comfortable and friendly with each other,” she continues.  “If actors aren't having fun, the audience won't either.  We break the physical barrier early; actors are shaken, pushed, jumped over, and involved in several love scenes - we have to be able to commit to that without being afraid or awkward.” 

“The set itself also needs to be very practical; it's a box set, but it needs to be very sturdy because doors slam, actors run around and jump over and on furniture.  Because the show is so physically demanding, I try to make sure we have everything in early so actors can be completely comfortable with each other and the set/props.”

As for the cast, Jessica describes it as ‘Dream Cast’.  “ I have to say that I'm so grateful to be working with such a wide range of people, from experienced actors and local stalwarts to some new or under used faces.  It's one of my favorite things about community theatre, building a little group of people who otherwise wouldn't ever meet, let alone grab a beer after a rehearsal.” 

“The show is headed up by Keven Washburn; he is an SVSU grad pursuing music who not only has an incredible voice, but really great comic timing.  His character, Max, is the straight man and protagonist of the show, and Keven does such a funny job of adding in little vocalizations and reactions to the craziness that happens around him.”

“Opposite him is Hailey Samyn, who is new to the Players stage.  One of the concerns I have with theatre, especially farce, is that female characters are often poorly written or shallowly developed, serving only as a foil to male characters.  We have worked really hard to make sure that Hailey's character Maggie feels like a real person without spoiling any of the fun; she has amazing facial reactions and some really funny lines.” 

“The character of Tito Merelli, world-famous Italian opera star, is played by David Ryan.  He is an incredibly fearless actor who takes the lead in any role he's cast in; he excels at physical comedy, and as a bonus he has an excellent voice.  Tony Lynch is a local theatre stalwart, and we were lucky to have him fill the role of Saunders - this role has a lot of very funny angry monologues, and Tony is doing a great job channeling the bluster.” 

“This show has several excellent parts for featured actors, including Cheri Garrett as Maria Merelli, Cathy Gibboney as Julia Leveret, Thad VanTifflin as The Bellhop, and Gina Kearly as Diana, a scheming soprano.  They each bring a lot to their respective roles, and it has been a blast being at rehearsals every night.”

Thus far, Jessica says the biggest challenge she has faced with this production has been the crazy weather experienced in February.   “With several actors commuting I've had to call off some rehearsals, but we're working hard making up for lost time.  My other main concern as a director was pacing; if a farce isn't quick, crisp, and well-rehearsed, it falls flat.  It also has to keep a little spark of danger - too much and it's not safe for actors, but not enough and it loses a sense of reality.”

“This is such a great show,” concludes Jessica. “If you have family members or friends who don't typically like theatre, this show will change their minds!  It's very accessible, it's been super fun to take the lead on, and hopefully lots of people come to check it out.”

Bay City Players production of Ken Ludwig’s ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ runs from March 22-24 & 28-31. Curtain time is 7:30 pm except Sunday matinees at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and now on sale at the box office or by phoning 989.893.5555 or visiting




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