REVIEW: Classical Opera Gets the Slapstick Treatment in Avon Players’ Uproarious Production of ‘Lend Me a Tenor’

Mention the word ‘opera’ and likely the first image that springs to mind is a woman in a Viking hat with blond braids, wearing a breastplate, and hitting an impossibly high note that can shatter any nearby glass objects. Or perhaps it’s the 1957 Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” spoofing Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. And while there is such a thing as opera comedies, I find it hard to believe that any opera attendee would ever leave a performance with their sides aching from laughing so hard. So, set aside all your preconceived notions about opera because Avon Players’ current production of Lend Me a Tenor, running now until Saturday, March 21 in Rochester, MI,  is side-splitting fun you don’t want to miss.

The first Broadway play by legendary playwright Ken Ludwig, Lend Me a Tenor is technically considered a farce. As stated in Director Deirdre Ward-Beck’s notes, “by definition, farce is simple, basic, broad comedy with lots of slapstick, misunderstanding, and mistaken identities.” Lend Me a Tenor definitely checks all those boxes and had the opening-night audience in stitches right from the get-go.

L – R: Bodi Johnson as the “Bellhop,” Joy Oetjens as “Julia Leverett,” Kimme Suchyta as “Maggie Saunders,” Erica Gunaca as “Diana Bateman,” Joe Colosi as “Henry Saunders,” Jonathan Farrell as “Tito Merelli,” and Johannah Steinbrecher-Booker as “Maria Merelli.”

Photo credit: Bryan Clifford

Set in 1934, the action takes place inside a hotel suite in Cleveland, Ohio. The two-room set consists of a sitting room on the left and a bedroom on the right. A center wall divides the two rooms, but the audience is privy at all times to what is happening in either room. Or in some instances to the action going on in both rooms simultaneously. Of course, it wouldn’t be a farce without doors and there are six of them for the actors to run through, hide behind, and slam. Speaking of actors, this is a wisecracking cast of characters. Most of the cast is made up of returning Avon Players’ veterans, but there are also a few fresh faces that really make their mark in this show.

Joe Colosi (in his Avon Players’ debut) is hysterical as Henry Saunders, the high-strung general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. Saunders has some of the best moments and lines in the show. My favorites were when he turns to the audience to deliver a sarcastic mini monologue. He is absolutely believable as a man who is slowly being driven to the brink of insanity. If anyone was ever in meltdown mode, it’s Henry Saunders. That is largely to do with the fact he has everything riding on a one-night, sold-out performance by the famous Italian tenor Tito Merelli (Jonathan Farrell). Saunders refuses to leave anything to chance so he puts his assistant Max Garber (Nick Frederick) in charge of making sure Tito properly rests and more importantly, shows up on time for his performance. Saunders’ daughter, Maggie (played by Kimme Suchyta in her Avon Players’ debut) insists on hanging around to see the great “Il Stupendo” arrive, much to Max’s chagrin since she’s supposed to be his sweetheart.

L – R: Nick Frederick as “Max Garber” and Jonathan Farrell as “Tito Merelli.”
Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford.

When Merelli does arrive he is accompanied by his raven-haired, hot-tempered wife Maria, played by Johannah Steinbrecher-Booker, who always takes her performance to another level and was just born to play physical comedy. Also very eager to meet Merelli are the flirtatious Chairwoman of the Opera Guild, Julia Leverett (Joy Oetjens) as well as opera fanboy Bellhop (Bodi Johnson). Johnson is a high school senior, but he has been making a big impression on the Avon Players’ stage for quite some time now with gritty roles such as Hank in Marvin’s Room and as a high-strung kid in the comedy sketches from last year’s Forever Christmas. This role has to be one of my favorites. His youthful exuberance is a perfect fit for his obnoxious character and his singing voice is no joke either. I look forward to watching him grow as an artist and hopefully treating us to many more wonderful performances. Also eager to catch Tito’s attention is Diana Bateman (Erica Gunaca in her Avon Players’ debut). The voluptuous soprano is desperate to leave Cleveland behind for the bright lights of the Metropolitan Opera House and is willing to use every asset in her arsenal to get there. Gunaca effortlessly exudes sensuality and mixes it with the right amount of blond moments for a memorable performance. With all the players in place, the next obvious thing to happen is for everything to go horribly wrong.

Tito and Maria fight. She storms out which leaves Tito feeling so despondent, he takes some tranquilizers. Not knowing what Tito has done, Max, in an effort to help Tito relax, gives him more tranquilizers. With Tito incapacitated, Henry and Max hatch a plan to have Max fill in for Tito. Since the role requires a costume and face paint, they’re banking on no one noticing the difference between an amateur and a world-renowned opera singer. All they have to do is fool everyone into believing the lie they’re selling. Do they pull it off? The only way to find out is to go see this witty show. It is a wonderful respite from the depressing daily news cycle and the lackluster movie season we’ve had as of late. Lend Me a Tenor may not be an opera in the traditional sense, but you’ll definitely be smiling more by the time it’s over.

The performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Just to put it in perspective, that is significantly shorter than Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg which clocks in at four and a half hours.

Tickets for all shows are $18. Call 248.608.9077 for tickets or order online at www.AvonPlayers.org. Group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved.

Catch one of these remaining performances:

  • Saturday, March 7         8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 8           2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, March 13           8:00 p.m. CANCELLED
  • Saturday, March 14       8:00 p.m. CANCELLED
  • Sunday, March 15         2:00 p.m. CANCELLED
  • Friday, March 20           8:00 p.m. CANCELLED
  • Saturday, March 21       8:00 p.m. CANCELLED
About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

Comments

  1. ???????????????? review.
    Totally ❤️ the first paragraph. ????

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