Full disclosure: I live for Bay Street musicals.
Last year, “Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues” was my very favorite East End show of all time. Another top production was the musical “Enter Laughing.”
“Lend Me a Tenor,” now staging at Bay Street is technically not a musical, even though there is a bit of opera singing. But I’m still placing it in my category of favorites, as it does not disappoint, despite my ridiculously high expectations.
This farce—which has lots of slamming doors, mistaken identity and ribald humor—is a true joy to behold. Written by Ken Ludwig and initially staged in 1986, and set in 1934 Cleveland, Ohio, the writing still holds up all these years later. It just goes to show that comedy, when written well, is timeless.
But it’s the talented cast that really won me over on this production.
Honestly, farce isn’t always my cup of tea. In the wrong hands, this type of humor can go very, very wrong—thudding like an lead balloon when the acting is ham-handed or otherwise not up to par. Fortunately, the talented pros here ensure that this is not the case. Each and every actor in this production brings their “A game” to the Bay Street stage.
This past Friday night, Noah Plomgren, as Max, started out timid but got better and better as the play progressed. He really hit his stride (spoiler alert) when he assumed the identity of the famous tenor, Tito Merelli, dressed up as “Othello.” Nebbishy and unsure as Max, he became a convincing and confident lady’s man with the help of an afro wig and greasepaint. I liked and appreciated him more and more as the play went on.
Max’s lady love, Maggie, played by Betsy DiLellio, is solid throughout. Her clothes and hair are spot-on, but more important, she’s got the essence of a 30s-era ingénue. Her light touch was a terrific counterpoint to the rather big personalities with which she shared the stage.
Absolutely pitch-perfect, in more ways than one, was Roland Rusinek as Tito. An actor and singer at the top of his form, he was at his absolute best when paired up with Mr. Plomgren and Judy Blazer, who plays his wife, Maria. The mirrored action between his character and those of Max and Maria are among the play’s many highlights.
Ms. Blazer, as the tenor’s put-upon and jealous wife, is a dead ringer for Patti Lupone. It was quite astonishing. This talented actress, who has tremendous comic timing, makes the absolute most of her short time on stage.
Speaking of doppelgangers, Steve Rosen as Saunders, positively oozes all the best qualities of comedian Jon Lovitz. Not only does he clearly resemble the former “Saturday Night Live” star, he also proves that he’s got the same level of comic genius.
Scott Cote, as Bellhop, doesn’t have a ton of time on stage but when he does, he absolutely entrances. His performance called the great thespian (and East Ender) Nathan Lane to mind. He actually might have been my favorite. Shhh, don’t tell the stars.
As over-the-top society doyenne Julia, Nancy Johnston is a delight. She’s ridiculous, she’s earthy, and she reminds one more than a bit of more than a few South Fork denizens at the top of the social heap.
And Donna English, as the actress Diana, is sexy, seductive and best of all, funny. She made her small part memorable.
Kudos also to the production staff, led by director Don Stephensen. The whole show ran smoothly and was a real gem. Well done Bay Street.
Bottom line: To quote Saunders, “It was a complete triumph!”
“Lend Me a Tenor” stages at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor through Sunday, June 23. Show times are Mondays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $59.50. For additional information, call 725-9500, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.baystreet.org.