We gave it a B+
Audiences beware: You might be hit by flying objects during Lend Me a Tenor, the Stanley Tucci-directed Broadway revival of Ken Ludwig’s play that stars Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace), Tony Shalhoub (Monk), and Justin Bartha (The Hangover). A champagne cork, a piece of wax fruit, and a couple of roses go hurling into the audience during the limber and fast-moving comedy. But more than flying objects, you’re likely to be hit hard by something else — the disorderly jest the cast churns out for nearly two and a half hours straight, much of it extremely physical in the best way. Doors slam nearly constantly on the two-room hotel suite set, and the cast takes the opportunity to scramble over a couch and bed, into a clothes closet, and on top of each other at nearly every side-splitting turn.
Lend Me a Tenor, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards after its original Broadway run in 1986, concerns renowned Italian tenor Tito Merelli (LaPaglia), who’s in Cleveland to sing Otello at the 10th anniversary fundraiser for the city’s opera company. Shepherding his appearance are the company’s grumpy manager, Saunders (Shalhoub), and his assistant, Max (Bartha), who must deal with the whims of the temperamental Italian singer. Soon after arriving, Merelli and his wife, Maria (the dead-on and divine Jan Maxwell), get into a huge fight over his dalliances with other women; Maria storms out, leaving a note saying she’s done with him for good. To cope, the distraught Merelli takes too many sleeping pills and passes out cold. Saunders and Max think Merelli is dead, spurring them to concoct an ill-advised plan for the show to go on: with amateur tenor Max donning blackface and performing Othello instead of Merelli. But then Merelli wakes up. As you might imagine, the hilarity that ensues concerns lots of mistaken identities, double entendres, innuendoes, and — as mentioned before — nearly constant door slamming.
The show feels like a throwback, in the vein of the physical laughs the Three Stooges conjured. A great deal of the credit goes to Stanley Tucci, in his Broadway directing debut. Tucci obviously spent a great deal of time working with his actors on their timing and perfecting delightful flourishes like the flying objects and one particularly blood-curdling scream from one of the actresses. The rest of the credit goes to the stellar cast: All involved are great, but LaPaglia, Shalhoub, Bartha, and Maxwell particularly stand out. (Shalhoub’s searing and repeated ”goddammit!” during the show’s first act is especially memorable.)
One additional flourish that Tucci includes from the original comes just after the surprising end of the play, before the curtain call, when the actors chaotically and entertainingly run through the entire show (without dialogue, yet set to music) in just a minute or two, nodding to all the show’s comic high points along the way. It’s a genius move, a perfectly enchanting button to an already solid, mirthful show. B+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800.432.7250)