Madcap is getting a workout at North Coast Rep. Lend Me A Tenor, Ken Ludwig’s quarter-century-old screwball comedy, makes quite the ruckus at the Solana Beach theater: doors fly open and slam shut, exhortations and exclamations echo to the rafters, the caffeinated cast flies from stage left to stage right and back again as fast as the one-liners. As you’d expect with a show executed at this comic tempo, some laughs are more easily goaded than others, and the going can get chaotic. But it’s controlled chaos in director Matthew Wiener’s able hands.
Before “Get Him to the Greek,” there was Lend Me A Tenor, the story of a well-meaning, underappreciated lackey charged with minimizing the excesses and unpredictability of a prima donna star long enough to get a big performance out of him. In this case, the lackey is Max (Christopher M. Williams), the prima donna is larger-than-life tenor Tito Morelli (Bernard X. Kopsho) and the Greek is the Cleveland Opera, circa 1934. For Max, a secretly aspiring tenor himself, the task of keeping Tito under control is complicated by the tempers run wild of Tito’s wife, Maria (Jessica John, robust as chianti) and Max’s boss, Saunders (Ted Barton, laughably blustering) and the hormones run wild of opera diva Diana (Jacque Wilke, va-va-voom) and Saunders’ daughter, Maggie (Courtney Corey).
Sight gags, a broadly played case of mistaken identity and trysting ensue, all of it presented at Marx Brothers pace. The two-Titos bit stretches plausibility, but in this comedic context passes muster. Give the cast high marks for timing, too, without which Lend Me A Tenor would be in need of more than an opera star.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat