Just sit back and laugh. Oh, and guard your head. That’s all you can do while watching the Broadway revival of Lend Me a Tenor , the ludicrous, and ludicrously enjoyable comedy playing at the Music Box Theater. Directed by Stanley Tucci, this comedy of mistaken identities, ambition and infidelity is an entertaining ride and, if you sit back and enjoy it, and keep an eye out for the champagne corks, roses and other random objects flying into the audience, you’ll have a great time.
Set in a swanky hotel room in Cleveland Lend Me a Tenor revolves around Tito Merelli, the famous opera singer played in a robust performance by Anthony LaPaglia, who is arranged to perform Othello at a benefit performance that evening. The performance has been arranged by Saunders, played in a frenzy by Tony Shaloub, who delegates the task of getting the distracted singer to the stage on time to his assistant Max (Justin Bartha, in a solid Broadway debut). After an accidental overdose of sleeping pills renders Merelli unconscious, Saunders convinces the mild-mannered Max to fill in onstage. Never mind that Merelli is much shorter and heavier than Max and a classically trained and world-renowned singer, while Max is younger, thinner and sings occasionally for amusement. Once he puts on the tights and the makeup, it doesn’t matter, right?
Not if you want to enjoy the show, which it is hard not to do when it is performed by such a stellar cast of comedians. As Saunders, Shaloub is all bluster and fuss and is highly entertaining. At times he comes across as a bit too frantic, but his performance is quite amusing, especially when he flings himself on top of the unconscious body of Merelli and attempts to beat him into consciousness and then directs his frustration to unsuspecting pieces of furniture. Bartha is a fine Max, and he is quite amusing once he has donned the disguise, and apparently the confidence of Merelli. And, as Merelli, LaPaglia is clearly having a fine time onstage, playing dumb or drunk whenever the occasion calls for it. He really has one of the best parts on Broadway, getting to spend the greater part of the first act pretending to be asleep on a large bed and the second half receiving the attention of several beautiful women.
These women are beautiful, and quite funny, too. Mary Catherine Garrison plays Marie, Saunders’ daughter and the object of Max’s affection. Decked out in pastel tones, with bright blonde hair, she looks the part of the perfect ingénue but her personality has an extra bit of pizzazz, thanks to Garrison’s impeccable comedic timing. Jennifer Laura Thompson plays the femme fatale Diana, an ambitious opera singer who seems to think bubble baths are the way to professional success. And Brooke Adams is an amusing Julia, the chairman of the opera board. Adams is a bit too grand for the part, but she is amusing, nonetheless. As Merelli’s wife Maria, Jan Maxwell effortlessly and elegantly steals every scene she is in. And Jay Klaitz is just plain hilarious as an overeager fanatic bellhop.
Performed on an ornate, elegant set, and decked out in stunning costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, this show is one big, colorful blur. Yes, there are plot holes. But who cares when you’re laughing this much?