Moonlight Troupers shine in `Tenor' farce

Review

Arundel Live

Arts and entertainment in Anne Arundel County

April 22, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A hit since it opened on Broadway in 1989, Ken Ludwig's Lend Me A Tenor continues to entertain in Anne Arundel Community College's Moonlight Troupers' production that opened last weekend at the school's Pascal Center for Performing Arts.

Tenor tells the story of a world-famous Italian singer, Tito Merelli, who is engaged by Cleveland Opera to open its season with a performance of Verdi's Otello.

Unconcerned about keeping 1,000 opera fans waiting, Tito decides to rest after his angry wife, Maria, threatens to leave him over his womanizing.

The substitute

Distraught, Tito takes too many pills with Chianti before he falls into a deep slumber. Opera company manager Henry Saunders persuades his assistant Max, who is an amateur tenor, to substitute for Tito.

Max not only inherits the Otello role, but also Tito's groupies, including Saunders' daughter Maggie and opera guild president Julia and predatory soprano Diana.

Ludwig's award-winning comedy requires split-second timing, which it has under the direction of Robert Kauffman, who chaired AACC's performing arts department for more than 30 years before his retirement in January 2003.

Kauffman has assembled a fine student cast that brings Ludwig's farce to uproarious comic life. As Max, Lawrence W. Griffin conveys a disarming innocence and gullibility along with a desire to impress Maggie.

Griffin may be at his best in scenes shared with H. Vernon Lewis' tenor Tito, managing to hold his own in double-takes, pratfalls and athletic stunts with trained professional stuntman Lewis, playing the lothario tenor to the hilt.

Lewis' Tito is often over the top, which adds hilarity, especially in Act 2. Lewis conveys Tito's ambivalence at being pursued by a variety of women, his king-size libido usually triumphing and his supreme confidence befitting a world-class Italian tenor.

As Maria, Tito's wife, Caroline Cook makes an auspicious Troupers debut. Although she occasionally seems to be trying to compete with Lewis in loudness in early scenes, Cook soon gets in stride to provide intense hilarity that matches Lewis' Tito, and along the way she manages to garner some sympathy for her character.

Elizabeth Enkiri also debuts in this Troupers production. Enkiri is consistently on the mark as Maggie, expressing a beguiling combination of naivetM-i and youthful zest for romance, alternating between daddy's dutiful girl and budding Tito groupie.

Lusty portrayal

Without any discernible naivete, Colleen Arvidson gives a lusty portrayal of seductive soprano Diana. Arvidson's double entendre scenes with Tito are comic highlights.

Brendan M. Leahy is believable as opera company manager Henry Saunders, summoning the requisite bluster, adroitness and fatherly protectiveness toward daughter Maggie to fill the role.

The only non-student cast member is Joy Ajello, longtime box-office manager, sometimes described as providing the "general glue" for Moonlight Trouper productions.

Ajello's opera dowager Julia always strikes the right note to provide comic highs.

The only off-note results from having Griffin and Lewis sing when neither could convince even a casual opera fan that they could win opera house ovations.

But these two are here to provide laughs and they do so with gusto. The fun continues through Sunday.

Reservations 410-777-2457.

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