'Lend Me a Tenor' is homecoming for Pasadena Theatre Co.

President: 'We are pleased to be back' at Chesapeake Arts Center Studio 194

  • The cast of “Lend Me a Tenor:” From left, Devin Wootton (Max), Lauren Jackson (Maggie), Kathy McBee (Julia), Jerry Khatcheressian (bellhop), Tom Rendulic (Tito Morelli), Karen Eske (Maria), Mike Styer (Saunders) and Sandra Boldman (Diana).
The cast of “Lend Me a Tenor:” From left, Devin… (Bud Johnson, Baltimore…)
May 27, 2011|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

The Pasadena Theatre Company returns to the Chesapeake Arts Center Studio 194 Theatre to present Ken Ludwig's 1989 Tony Award-winning comedy "Lend Me a Tenor," which opens on Saturday, June 4, for a three-weekend run.

This return to Chesapeake Arts Center might be termed a kind of homecoming. During its 32-year history, the Pasadena Theatre Company has performed at several county venues, recently most often at AACC's Pascal Center and Humanities Recital Hall.

At a recent rehearsal, PTC President Sharon Steele said, "We are pleased to be back … with our current show and we know 'Lend Me a Tenor' will be a great fit here, where we also hope to do lots of shows."

Steele recalled that PTC was the first resident theater company at Chesapeake Center, presenting "Camelot" on the main stage March 16 to April 8, 2001 — the first extended-run show at the new arts facility. Also in 2001 in Chesapeake Center's Studio Theater, PTC offered "Plaza Suite" and "It's a Wonderful Life." During the 2002 season, PTC presented "The King and I" on the main stage. Another memorable PTC performance was "A Man for All Seasons" in spring 2009 at CAC's Studio 194 theater.

Steele and director Chuck Dick expressed their enthusiasm for "Lend Me a Tenor," and both agreed that that this comedy offered a break from our current concerns.

Dick said, "If you're ready to have an evening of laughs and maybe even hilarity, you'll find them in this show. Well-crafted, this show by Ken Ludwig has characters that are well-drawn and clear, and we have a good cast with great timing. So if you're stressed out from the economy and high gas prices, come to lose your troubles for a couple of hours."

Ludwig's "Lend Me a Tenor," made a successful debut on Broadway in 1989 and has been a community theater favorite for the past 20 years. The show was revived on Broadway in 2010 starring Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shalhoub and Justin Bartha. Set in Cleveland in 1934, Ludwig's farce tells of tenor Tito Morelli, who comes to the Cleveland Opera Company to sing Verdi's "Otello."

Opera manager Saunders needs to keep world-famous tenor Morelli happy before this major performance, and he also needs to keep the tenor in line so that his jealous wife, Maria, will be happy. Saunders gets help in watching Morelli from his assistant, Max, who is romancing Saunders' daughter Maggie — who also seems interested in getting noticed by Morelli. Rising diva Diana, who is cast as Desdemona, hopes to further her operatic career with tenor Tito's help. Opera benefactor Julia also wants a few moments with the famed tenor. So does the opera fan bellhop.

Saunders' daughter, diva Diana and the opera dowager all provide Tito enough distraction to provoke Maria. She makes good on her threat to leave him because of his womanizing antics. Maria leaves a farewell note before storming out of their hotel suite.

Finding the note, Morelli consoles himself with wine, and to further calm him, Max gives him tranquilizers. Soon Morelli seems comatose, and assistant Max decides he must go on to sing Otello. Max claims he knows every line of all of Otello's arias, and moreover, he insists he can sing them all well enough to play the Otello role on stage. Deciding to go on as Otello, Max applies his blackface makeup and slips into Otello's tights to substitute for Tito.

Soon Tito awakens and proceeds to follow a similar routine, and mass confusion results from lots of mistaken identities backstage at the opera house.

Although at rehearsal I didn't see the two actors preparing to go onstage as Otello, I suspect that this blackface makeup humor would seem out of date and offensive to members of most contemporary audiences, despite perhaps amusing other earlier patrons.

As we watched the cast rehearse Act 1 scenes, we tried to suppress our laughter. Mike Styer played Saunders with surprisingly strong comic skill and a firm grasp of how to deliver his every line for maximum comic effect. Holding his own with Styer, actor Devin Wootton as Max was already quite polished and he seemed to enjoy every line.

We were tickled by the irrepressible antics of "bellhop" Jerry Khatcheressian who also tossed off quite acceptable Italian phrases with continental flair.

Tom Rendulic seemed totally into his role as Tito Morelli, transmitting a warm Italian charm with a humorous wink that was hard to resist.

We also were impressed by the comic skills of Karen Eske as Maria and Lauren Jackson as Maggie.

PTC advises parental discretion for this show because of "some suggestive language and sexual innuendo." Having seen this show a few years ago, I can't recall anything that could possibly offend today's HBO-indoctrinated audiences.

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. June 4-18 and Sundays at 3 p.m. June 5 and 12. Order tickets on line at ptcshows.com or call 410-440-8460 for ticket information.

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