By Barb Brouwer
If the state of the world is bringing you down, head over to Shuswap Theatre for a dose of hilarity.
Directed by Julia Body, the theatre’s latest main stage production, is an adaptation of playwright Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor.
Body has directed two other Ludwig plays – Moon Over Buffalo and Leading Ladies.
“I love his style and his humour,” she says. “His characters are fun to act and fun to direct.”
Calling it a typical farce, Body sets the scene: It’s 1934 and opening night at the Cleveland Operatic Society’s special 10th anniversary production of Pagliacci.
Saunders, the general manager of the opera company, is thrilled that world famous tenor Tito Merelli, also known as Il Stupendo, has agreed to perform the title role.
But he’s late to arrive and is accompanied by his wife whom nobody was expecting.
“He’s a bit of a womanizer and likes to drink, and so, when he arrives he’s not feeling well and the manager of the operatic society is beside himself because things are falling apart,” says Body. “And it all goes downhill from there.”
Merelli needs to sleep but can’t nod off so Max, who has been tasked to take care of the touchy tenor and get him to the opera in time, gives him one too many phenobarbital tablets.
“The combination of wine and medication knock Tito out and when Max is unsuccessful in his attempts to waken him he believes he is dead.
In a frantic attempt to salvage the evening, Saunders persuades Max to get into Merelli’s costume and fool the audience into thinking he’s Il Stupendo.
Max succeeds admirably, until Merelli awakes and gets ready to perform. Now two Pagliaccis are running around in costume and two women in lingerie are following them, each believing they are the lucky one with Il Stupendo.
The opera company’s soprano thinks Tito will further her career and the manager’s daughter, Maggie, just idolizes the soprano.
“It’s a madcap play with mistaken identities, people in and out trying to see and talk with Merelli,” laughs Body, who notes the play takes place in the tenor’s hotel room. “There are six doors on stage, which are constantly slamming and outrageous situations just like all farces.”
Many members of the cast will be familiar to Shuswap Theatre fans: Fred Green – who also appeared in Leading Lady – plays the manager; Alex Delaney is Max; Ali Foster-Balloun is Maggie; Brook Derksen plays the career-minded soprano Diana; Hilary Brown plays Julia, the owner of the opera, Ann Skelhorne is Tito’s wife and newcomers Chris Iversen is Tito and Patrick Larsen plays the bellhop.
“The cast is having a great time; the set is divided into two halves, a bedroom and living room, and there’s lots of action,” says Body. “Everyone’s having a blast.”
Lend Me a Tenor was produced on both New York’s West End and Broadway. It received nine Tony Award nominations and won for best actor and best director. A Broadway revival opened in 2010. Lend Me a Tenor has been translated into 16 languages and produced in 25 countries
“Vernon and Kamloops have done it too,” says Body. “It’s absolutely hilarious – great lines, great characters and a kind of laugh-your-face-off play.”
Lend Me a Tenor plays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from April 26 to May 10. Sunday afternoon matinees take place at 1:30 on April 28 and May 5. May 2 and May 9 are “Pay What You Can” Thursdays. Cash at the door only, no reservations.
The play is Shuswap Theatre’s entry for the Okanagan Zone Festival, which takes place in Salmon Arm this year and opens on May 17.