Screwball comedy, mistaken identity, spot on tech all characterize Madison High School’s “Lend Me a Tenor”

November 26, 2012

All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.

Jonathan Halverson, a student at The New School of Northern Virginia reviews “Lend Me a Tenor” performed by James Madison High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

It’s not over till the fat lady sings... right? Wrong. It’s not over until the shy, bumbling assistant assumes the identity of the lead tenor and wins both his self-confidence and the girl, or something thereabouts. James Madison High School’s production of "Lend Me a Tenor" melds screwball comedy with the complex love stories of old to create a masterful farce on 1930’s high society.

Written by Ken Ludwig, the show premiered on London’s West End in 1986. It had its Broadway debut on March 2nd, 1989 and ran for 476 performances. Lend Me a Tenor, and its subsequent revival in 2010, has been nominated for 11 Tonys and won for Best Actor in a Play and Best Direction of a Play.

Set in 1934 during the height of the Great Depression, the show centers around Italian tenor Tito Merelli’s (Matthew Lansdell) American debut with the Cleveland Opera Company. The owner of the Opera, Henry Saunders (James Thomas) is determined to make sure nothing happens to his star and so directs his assistant Max (Sean Pedersen) to stay with Tito in his hotel room and keep him in check. Complicating that task are Tito’s ongoing arguments with his wife Maria (Shannon Roux) and Max’s girlfriend -and Henry’s daughter- Maggie (Morgan Miller), who is determined to meet Tito and “fling” with him. Due to a rather honest mistake, Max ends up incapacitating Tito and is forced to take his place as Othello in the opera. What comes next is endless double entendre and cases of mistaken identity as Tito awakens and the characters attempt to sort out who’s who in this mixed up, larger-than-life world.

As Max, Pedersen exhibited great physical comedy skills and character development, visibly changing during the show from a mild-mannered, skittish boy to a confident outspoken man. His acting is complemented by interaction with Thomas as Saunders, the two seemingly forming the quintessential comedy duo of the era. Rounding out the cast are Samantha Roux as Diana, the female lead in the opera and classic femme fatale who attempts to solicit favors from Tito to great comic effect, and Emily Wade as Julia, the flamboyant grande dame of the bunch who tries desperately to display her role in society through motion.

 The tech for the show was well done. Of particular note was the sound crew’s use of a small on-stage speaker for playing on-stage effects. By having telephone rings and radio music come from the stage rather than the main speakers, it added to the feeling of realism in the show. The lighting was well thought out and detailed, with the use of working sconces and chandeliers on the set adding to the ambience of the show. The set was well crafted, with details such as a decorated hallway and rooms off the main set. The props were all period, including a working 1941 RCA radio.

 Overall, the show was executed beautifully. The actors maintained consistent energy and physicality throughout while the tech was always spot on. Whether chasing one another around the room or recreating the entire show in a minute at the end, the cast and crew of James Madison High School produced a farce to be reckoned with in "Lend Me a Tenor."

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