Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lend Me A Tenor—New Century Players—SE Portland

A Romp on the Wild Side

This farce by Ken Ludwig is directed by Tony Bump and is playing at the Rex Putnam High School in their black box theatre.  It is located at 4950 SE Roethe Rd. in Milwaukie, OR. (not easy to locate) and plays through April 20th.  For more information, check out their website at or call 503-367-2620.  This ten-year-old group is also having a gala anniversary celebration on May 31st.  And, I have it on good authority, that their Artistic Director and the school’s drama instructor, Kelley Marchant, is quite amazing with the students she teaches and shows she directs there.  I believe the school’s next production is James and the Giant Peach later this Spring.  Might be worth checking out.

This play harkens back to the merry, madcap, carefree days of the Marx Brothers, Gilbert & Sullivan, Noel Coward, and drawing room comedies.  It is a delicious, nostalgic romp down memory lane with a touch of naughty throw in for good measure.  It is an escape from the real world of the Thirties, which was reeling from the depression, and was coping with the conflicts in Europe, the prelude to WWII.  It was a time to forget the real and believe in the ideal.

The time is the mid-1930’s in a hotel suite in Cleveland, Ohio.  The opera company is preparing for the entrance of one of the greatest tenors in the world, the bombastic, Tito (Doug Jacobs), to grace their stage.  He has arrived to perform for one night in the opera, Otello, and his fiery wife, Maria (Debra Hudkins), has accompanied him.  His reputation as a lover of women, drink and good food has preceded his persona.  It is also noted that, having such a large appetite, he has an equally large ego and must be handled with kids gloves.

The producer of the show, Saunders (David Hudkins), is a bundle of nerves and is barely able to function with such an enormous responsibility.  So, he does what every good manager might do, he passes that baton to his underlying, Max (Kraig Williams), charging him to stick to Tito like flypaper and keep him away from wine, women, and his admirers.  But his fans are closer than he thinks.  Saunders own young daughter, Maggie (Allison Andresen), has eyes for Tito and feels she just must have one fling first, before submitting her life in a marriage with Max.

And even Max, himself, is a fledging tenor and wants a chance to prove his worth onstage.  The bellhop (Zac Brugess) also feels the need for recognition of his singing prowess from the great Tito.  And the Soprano in the show, Diana (Dorinda Toner), wants to get closer to the big man, as does the leader of the sponsoring guild, Julia (Jane E. Vogel).  They all want to bathe in the shadow of greatness.  As it turns out, the Great Voice, having overindulged on lunch, has much need of sleep.  But he gets more than he bargains for, as too much rest is not a good thing.

So events turn from bad to worst and…but to tell any more would be spoiling the story.  Suffice to say, they all get their wishes, sort of, but in odd turns of events.  But the fun is not in the plot anyway, but in how it is presented.  The word plays, mistaken meanings and identities, madcap chases, double-takes, and boundless energy, all are the important elements in making the show a success.

And, in this vain, it all works, thanks to a tireless, talented cast and, especially, to the director, Bump.  He, himself, has much training in music, directing/performing G&S operettas, performing and directing comedies and his expertise shows in this production.  This type of show is not easy to mount, as the director must be a traffic cop, an expert in comic timing, a teacher, a music aficionado, and a visionary of the scope of it.  Luckily, Bump has all of those traits in good supply!

And there is not a sour note in his cast, either.  Hudkins, as the befuddled producer, is all about double-takes, innuendos, slow burns and rapid–fire deliveries.  All of it very well done.  Williams, as his obedient lackey, is wonderful playing the dutiful employee and the amorous rogue.  Jacobs, as the great star, adds a nice touch of vulnerability to the ego-driven character, which endears him to the viewer.  Andresen, as the ingénue, definitely has the beauty this kind of role demands, but also shows herself to have a nice grasp of comic timing, too.  She shows promise as a budding actress.

Ms. Hudkins, as the multi-betrayed wife of the Great Man, is a hoot.  She is in good form, racking the rage of the typical, comic-Italian wife, via Anna Magnani, all fire and “bosoms,” just as Tito likes.  Toner and Vogel add lusciously to the Tenor’s legions of admirers.  And Burgess, a high school drama student (of Marchant’s), holds his own on the stage, doing some nice comic bits and looking like a young Tommy Tune.  All have their moments and shine in them.

The set, by Thyra Hartshorn, is very functional but wished it could have been shored up a bit more, as with all the needed slamming of doors, the shaking of the set was evident at times.  To be honest, though, this is not easily solved, unless you actually build real walls.  But, it is only a minor distraction, in an otherwise very well presented production.

I recommend this show and, if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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