"Lend Me a Tenor," now onstage at Little Theatre of Alexandria, is not a musical comedy, as the name might lead you to believe. There is just the tiniest bit of music, and there's not even much in the way of comedy. Oh, it's supposed to provoke laughter, but the chuckles are few and far between in this listless production of yet another in a series of lethargic, derivative scripts from playwright Ken Ludwig.
It's not that "Lend Me a Tenor" is a horrible play. To be fair, many people consider it quite hilarious when performed by a top-notch cast whipped into shape by a director adept at fast-paced, farcical comedy, and it did get a Tony nomination on Broadway. Unfortunately, the cast here is not top notch, and the director is not as adept at comedy as one might like. But the real problem is that Ludwig keeps writing the same play over and over, and it becomes quite tiresome to sit through it again and again.
Imagine if Neil Simon wrote "The Odd Couple" and then "The Unusual Couple" and then "The Offbeat Couple" and so on. That's Ludwig's career, and if you've seen one of his plays, you've pretty much seen them all. "Lend Me a Tenor" is not the best of them -- that honor goes to "Moon Over Buffalo," which arrived on Broadway six years after "Tenor" and is very similar to it but much more successfully realized.
In "Lend Me a Tenor," the denizens of a Cleveland opera company in 1934 are agog over the looming visit of internationally famous tenor Tito Merelli. But the great man takes too many sleeping pills, leading the promoter and his underling, a young man who wants to marry the promoter's daughter, to think he is dead. The underling also happens to be a tenor and decides to impersonate Merelli so his prospective father-in-law won't have to return all the money he's raked in. But the star awakens and stumbles out of his hotel room, meaning there's one too many tenors afoot.
Most of the performances here are unremarkable, neither particularly good nor especially bad. What is noticeable are the appalling, demeaning "Italian" accents employed by actors Shawn Perry and Maya Weil, who play Merelli and his wife, Maria. Sure, it's supposed to be a comedy, but the accents and accompanying stereotypical characterizations really need not be so insulting. Thankfully, they don't seem to be generating many laughs.
Keeping the play from being a totally lost cause is the work of Greg Christopher as Saunders, the promoter. Christopher infuses the theater with energy and grit, his fully dimensional characterization of a man used to getting his own way making the other actors come alive in his presence. Unfortunately, when he exits, so does that energy. Also amusing in a minor role is Pat Spencer as Julia, a local grand dame whose physically imposing appearance in a grotesque and silvery gown provokes one of the few truly clever lines in the entire show, which will not be related here because there should be something left for you to enjoy in case you already bought tickets.
There are a few more enjoyable moments, such as when Ron Sweeney, as Max, the local underling/tenor, and Perry briefly sing together and do so beautifully.
Director Adriana Hardy finally gets the cast up to speed for a while in Act 2, with people jumping in and out of closets and running in and out of Merelli's hotel suite, a colorful art-deco dream imaginatively designed by Robert Gray.
But it's not much to hang an entire evening on, even if a certain playwright has hung an entire career on it.
"Lend Me a Tenor," performed by Little Theatre of Alexandria, runs through June 26 at 600 Wolfe St., Alexandria. Showtime is 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For tickets or information, call the box office at 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.