By Angela Hatcher
There is deliberate cosmic power when an entire theater audience erupts in continuous tear-rolling belly laughter, and that is precisely how the Westminster Community Playhouse’s stars are aligned with this brightly twinkling and gloriously funny production, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor.
Under the sparkling baton of talented Director Priscilla Gonzalez, this unprecedented comedy has a good chance of being one of the most hilarious and best Orange County productions of the year.
Hitting all the high notes, Lend Me A Tenor is a spontaneous and outrageous comedy of errors that bounces with perfect comedic timing, great flair, a top-notch cast, and an over-the-top energetic performance by all.
It’s 1934, and renowned Italian Opera Tenor Tito Merelli (Eric Schiffer), known to the world as “Il Stupendo”, is scheduled to appear in his signature role as Verdi’s Otello in Cleveland’s small opera company.
He’s late. The anxious, uptight and scheming opera house’s executive director, Henry Saunders (Greg Stokes) is prepared to get things done – one way or another… The divo star eventually shows up – sick, along and with his fiery Italian wife, Maria (Maria O’Connor) who, by the way, has had enough of his womanizing ways.
Henry’s quiveringly nebbish bespectacled assistant, Max (Mohammad Saman) (think Seymour in Little Shop), is equally as passionate about Henry’s daughter, Maggie (Victoria Zofrea) as he is about secretly pursuing his own somewhat hidden talent.
Maggie has her sights set on the “rock star” of opera, Tito, and Tito’s ambitious soprano lead, Diana (Ashley Rowlett), is set on seducing Tito, herself. Rounding out the cast are the intrusive bellhop (Jorge Del Toro), and Opera Guild Chairwoman Julia (Laurie Robbins). There is nothing subtle about this quirky unadulterated comedic farce, and while there are layers and layers of slapstick comedy, physical comedy, mistaken identities, door slamming, misunderstandings, “sexcapadesm,” room swaps, and mistaken identities, this talented cast never misses a beat.
Saman brilliantly navigates the storyline with his flamboyantly boyish and hilarious portrayal of Max. Stokes’ melodramatic portrayal of Henry is played with great gusto. As Maggie, Zofrea does an excellent job of representing passionate and starstruck teenaged girls of any era. Shiffer makes it hard to believe that he is not Italian, and as the feisty Tito, he revels in his delivery of the star who is not supposed to be particularly liked as a person, but one whom the audience really likes (dead or alive) because however zany the storyline becomes, Shiffer plays it honestly.
Paired with O’Conner as Maria, they make this relationship feel worn, longstanding, and real. The sultry Diana is the epitome of the irresistible woman on a mission, and Rowlett struts her stuff in style and sexy grace! Robbins is a nice addition to the show as Julia and let us not leave out Del Toro as the bellowing invasive bellhop who could round out the “three tenors” role in this production – if they needed one!
Originally performed in Blackface, this problematic situation has been eliminated using clown make up which works splendidly for this storyline. It is commendable to extract great emotion and love from a company of players, and mostly to be entertained from beginning to end. Lend Me A Tenor is a “down to earth” riot of a good time.
“Lend Me A Tenor”
Westminster Community Playhouse
7272 Maple St.
Runs through Sept. 29