Monday, December 3, 2018

"Lend Me a Tenor" at Old Log Theatre

Now playing at the oldest continuously operating theater west of the Mississippi: the madcap comedy Lend Me a Tenor. Although written in 1989 by playwright Ken Ludwig (see also the madcap Sherlock Holmes comedy Baskerville), the play is set in 1934 and harkens back to the days of classic film comedies like It Happened One Night. Old Log Theatre has taken that cue beautifully, and created a piece of theater that feels like one of those old movie comedies come to life, except in three dimensions and full color! With a sparkling eight-person cast, sharp design, and impeccable timing on this complicated farce, Lend Me a Tenor makes for a fun night at the theater. Combine it with an afternoon or evening spent shopping and/or eating in the almost too charming lake town of Excelsior (which, when I visited, featured a horse drawn buggy and softly falling snow on the beautifully lit main street), and you have a wonderful day in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Lend Me a Tenor continues through February 16, the snow will probably continue much longer.

James Detmar as Saunders
(photo courtesy of Old Log)
The action of the play takes place all in one crazy day, upon the arrival of a famous Italian opera singer in Cleveland for a one night only performance of Verdi's Otello. The opera company's manager Saunders (James Michael Detmar) and his harried assistant and possible future son-in-law Max (David Beukema) are waiting for him at his hotel room, Saunders having shooed away his daughter/ Max's girlfriend/ opera fan girl Maggie (McKinnley Aitchison). When Tito (Luke Davidson) arrives unexpectedly with his jealous (with good cause) wife Maria (Jaclyn Juola), he's feeling a little under the weather. He skips rehearsal, and then due to a hilarious set of circumstances becomes indisposed and unable to perform, leading to lots of scrambling and hijinks to pull off the performance. Add to these circumstances a fan boy bellhop (Steven G. Frankenfield), ambitious opera singer Diana (Elena Glass), and the opera's chariwoman Julia (Melanie Wehrmacher), each of whom have their own agenda, and you have lots of opportunities for wacky fun! (If I'm being vague about the plot, it's only because the surprise and unexpectedness of it is half the fun.)

Melanie Wehrmacher as Julia and
McKinnley Aitchison as Maggie
(photo courtesy of Old Log)
I mentioned that this piece feels like a movie come to life, because it literally is. Before the show, clips from movies of the '30s and '40s are played on a movie screen in front of the set. At showtime, we see some charming silent movie type promos for Old Log as an event space. Then the play begins as a black and white movie on the screen, behind which you can see the actors performing the scene live. The screen is pulled up, and the movie-turned-play continues in front of us. The beautiful art deco hotel room set is a mirror image of itself (sitting room of the suite on the left, bedroom on the right), with a half dozen or so doors. Because in farce, more doors = more funny. (Video design by David Franken field, set design by Erik Paulson.)

Director Eric Morris gets fantastic performances from his cast in that sort of heightened farce style. There are a lot of comings and goings through those many doors, and scenes mirroring each other on either side of the center wall, and it's all executed perfectly. And the cast looks gorgeous in designer Morgan Potter's luscious period costumes.

Head west to Excelsior between now and February 16 to catch this fun and funny show, especially if you're a fan of those great old film comedies. Click here for more info and to purchase tickets.