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Tag Archives: Ken Ludwig

Lighthearted Farce Done Right: “Lend Me a Tenor” in La Mirada

J. Paul Boehmer, Catherine LeFrere, Davis Gaines and John Shartzer star in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS/McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of "LEND ME A TENOR." [photo: Michael Lamont]

J. Paul Boehmer, Catherine LeFrere, Davis Gaines and John Shartzer star in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS/McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of “LEND ME A TENOR.” [photo: Michael Lamont]

In the world of well-crafted farces, Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” has proven itself dependably clever in a variety of different settings. That is, when the cast is up to the rather specific demands of a tale about a regional opera company. Filled with classic slamming doors and mistaken identities, its sheer ridiculousness combined with its endearing characters makes it a deceptively easy hit.

Now playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, courtesy of the McCoy Rigby Series there, a new production of this silly piece has all the required elements to make it a sure-fire hit, and the results don’t disappoint. Those who must sing really can. Those who must be over-the-top do so with delightful abandon. The look, and the timing, all enhance the whole.

In short, this “Tenor” sings like an angel.

The tale, as much as there is one, centers upon a two-room hotel suite in Cleveland in 1934. The Cleveland Opera has invited the great Italian tenor, Tito Merelli, to sing “Otello” in a one-night gala performance. When he doesn’t arrive on the expected train, panic ensues among those hovering around that room waiting for him. When he finally does show up, a series of missteps, mistakes, and eventually mistaken identities create complete pandemonium.

Director Art Manke has collected a remarkably able ensemble cast to make all of this work, and his combination of choreographed movement and pacing makes the entire thing come together just as it should.

Central to the piece is John Shartzer’s Max, the harried assistant to the company’s general manager upon whom all the pressure regarding Tito’s appearance lands. Shartzer creates in Max a wiry, anxious, and – in the end – surprisingly talented man, even in the midst of panic. As his charge, Davis Gaines makes Tito stereotypically emotional, yet with an underlying kindness which humanizes the stereotype. Both sing well, which cements a major element of the storyline.

J. Paul Boehmer gives the company’s general manager the appropriately officious combination of command and fatalism. Kelley Dorney, as Max’s starstruck fiancé, radiates an innocent sense of daring. Colette Kilroy gives the older chairman of the Opera Guild an endearing enthusiasm, while Leslie Stevens creates the aura of a budding diva as the soprano anxious to use her connection with Tito to further her career.

In somewhat smaller but no less polished performances, Catherine LeFrere has a field day with Tito’s wildly dramatic, fed-up wife, while Jeff Skowron proves consistently funny as an opera-obsessed bellhop who co-opts the role of room service waiter to snag Tito’s autograph.

The set, by Tom Buderwitz, is filled with a sense of period luxury. David Kay Mickelsen has created period costumes which evoke the era, and meet the rather circumspect needs of the McCoy Rigby audience for decorum in the play’s more sensual moments. Katie McCoy’s wigs are perfect for both time and character. In short, the visuals set the scene and allow certain outmoded elements necessary for the plot to appear historically appropriate.

This “Lend Me a Tenor” will allow for genuine and lighthearted laughter, and who couldn’t use a bit of silliness in this fractious time? Go and enjoy, and leave happily unencumbered by anything deeper than the requisite happy ending.

What: “Lend Me a Tenor” When: through November 13, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $20 – $70 Info: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310 or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com

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A Most Silly Mystery: “The Games Afoot” in Whittier

Members of the cast of WTC's "The Game's Afoot" commune over a mystery [photo: Avis Photography]

Members of the cast of WTC’s “The Game’s Afoot” commune over a mystery [photo: Avis Photography]

In 2012, a send-up of the mystery genre by famed comic playwright Ken Ludwig, “The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays” won the Edgar from the Mystery Writer’s of America for Best Play. Ludwig, best known for delightfully ridiculous farces like “Lend Me a Tenor,” took that same approach to the classic whodunit, peppering it with references to Sherlock Holmes and his creator, and to Shakespeare. The resulting mashup is now on display at Whittier Community Theater, as the closeout to their 94th season, and it’s a hoot.

Based, in some measure, on the historic figure William Gillette, a famed American actor who became synonymous with Sherlock Holmes around the turn of the last century, the play is set in his castle-like estate in Connecticut. It’s a dark and stormy night, of course, and Christmas Eve. Members of his “Sherlock Holmes” company have come to join him for the holiday, as he recovers from having been shot at the end of a production his iconic play, by a still unknown someone in the audience. Then a most unpleasant theater critic/columnist arrives, sparking ire, unwrapping secrets and generally turning the house on its ear. What will happen next?

Norman Dostal makes a jovial Gillette, relaxed and carefree until the various disasters strike. Kathryn Hunter has fun as Gillette’s fussy and overprotective mother, while Justin Patrick Murphy vibrates with a kind of macho frailty as his fellow actor and best friend. Kensington Hallowell offers a somewhat brittle but practical rendition of this friend’s actress wife. Jay Miramontes and Amanda Joyce round out the house party as the young, recently wedded members of the troupe who carry secrets of their own.

Kerri Malmgren seems to be having the most fun of anyone in the company as the snotty and totally obnoxious columnist, whose mishap sparks much of the action and all of the best comedic moments. Candy Beck becomes the unexpected and rather distractible female detective who descends upon them all as the plot unfolds. All these characters not only deal with a genuine mystery, which has layers itself, but in the farcical silliness which ensues when there is a need to hide a body.

Indeed, under the direction of Suzanne Frederickson, the mystery – though interesting – takes a back seat to those farcical elements, as the piece is often very funny. The pacing is good and the director’s own elaborate stage design offers all the right bits to heighten the humor and move the story along. Costumer Nancy Tyler’s dependence on rather generic formalwear may not be exactly period (the piece is set in 1936) but isn’t exactly out of period either. In short, the whole thing works pretty well, right down to the startling, and very funny surprise ending.

Also possibly interesting to a theatrical historian, the production makes use of elements the real Gillette introduced into the American theatrical landscape: a realistic, fully working set, and sound and lighting effects (in this case, lightning and thunder) to contribute to the sense of drama. Gillette, a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, who actually retired from acting in 1932, was considered the first realistic American stage actor. This creates a bit of extra humor for those in the know, as farce as a genre is never very high on realism, nor can its characters be.

So, go take a look. “The Game’s Afoot” is a lighthearted romp, with a couple of interesting plot twists and a lot of humor. It will make a good, and economical way to entertain oneself on a warm summer night.

What: “The Game’s Afoot” When: Through June 18, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday Where: Whittier Community Theatre at The Center Theatre, 7630 S. Washington Ave. in Whittier How Much: $15 general, $10 seniors, students and military with ID Info: (562) 696-0600 or http://www.whittiercommunitytheatre.org

Golf as Farce: The Fox on the Fairway dashes into Whittier Community Theatre

Lewis Crouse and Roxie Lee, anxious for the outcome of "The Fox on the Fairway" at WTC

Lewis Crouse and Roxie Lee, anxious for the outcome of “The Fox on the Fairway” at WTC

Farce is an art form all its own. It demands a particular kind of rhythm, both from the performers and from the playwright. Ken Ludwig may be the best known farce-writer in America. His “Lend Me a Tenor” has become the gold standard of this kind of airy fluff. Now, at the Whittier Community Theatre, another of Ludwig’s silly pieces, The Fox on the Fairway,” offers up laughter, pratfalls and comic mayhem once again.

And once again, timing is everything. Fortunately, at WTC, the cast is – for the most part – up to the challenge. The play may not be quite as hysterical as “Tenor,” but it offers up plenty of laughs, snickers and a whole lot of golf humor. If you’ve got a golfer in the house, and want a laugh, this may be for you.

The plot – such as it is – is fairly simple. It is the day of the annual grudge-match golf tournament between Quail Valley Country Club and their arch-nemesis, Crouching Squirrel Golf and Racquet Club. Quail Valley manager Henry Bingham is sure he finally (after five years of losing) makes an unwise bet with his rival’s manager, only to find that his best player has defected to the other club. He thinks he is saved when he discovers that his new assistant, Justin, is an extraordinary golfer. The problem is Justin only plays well when not upset, something which may prove trickier than Henry thought.

Director John Francis has assembled a fine cast for this affair. Justin Patrick Murphy does everything but chew the scenery as the easily rattled Justin. MacKenzie Rae Campbell creates a delightfully volatile airhead as Justin’s fiance – the major cause of his upset. Lewis Crouse powers the piece as Henry – part bully, and part panicked investor. Greg Stokes, as the scheming head of the other club, really is as obnoxious and snotty as the character has to be.

MacKenzie Rae Campbell and Justin Patrick Murphy as the humorously volatile lovers at WTC

MacKenzie Rae Campbell and Justin Patrick Murphy as the humorously volatile lovers at WTC

Roxie Lee, as a club board member, and Toni Beckman as Bingham’s domineering wife, both have wonderful moments. However they both need to work on projection. Some of their funniest lines are quite hard to hear. Vincent Rodriguez – a young man for whom this show is a high school senior project – makes a fine tournament announcer, having also helped bring this production into being.

A nod must also go to Suzanne Frederickson for coming up with the perfect set for this kind of show, even if one of the swinging doors came loose due to all the slamming back and forth. Karen Jacobson must have had a ball with the costuming: finding all the truly obnoxious golf sweaters for Stokes’ character.

Indeed, there is a real sense of polish to this essentially amateur production. The sound effects are just right. The costuming is pretty much right. The set is created with farce in mind. The characters are well defined, and create the kind of ensemble which makes this particular kind of ridiculousness work. As with all of Ludwig’s plays, the humor builds: the crazy really comes out in the second half, so wait for it.

Try to catch this while you can. Sadly, WTC productions only last a couple of weekends – a part of their 92-year tradition.

What: “The Fox on the Fairway” When: Through June 15, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday Where: The Center Theatre, 7630 Washington Ave. in Whittier How Much: $12 general, $10 seniors/children, $8 students/active military Info: (562) 696-0600 or http://www.whitttiercommunitytheatre.org

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