By George Basler
Mistaken identities, romantic entanglements, slamming doors and a nutty plot are all key elements of a good farce, and Lend Me a Tenor has them in abundance, said Zach Curtis, producing artistic director of the Chenango River Theatre, which will open its season with the play on June 2.
“I consider it one of the two best modern farces written in the last 40 years (the other is Noises Off), Curtis said. “There’s nothing wasted in it. There’s no fat in it. The first act sets up the second act so that everything fits.”
Curtis is directing the production, which will run through June 25 at the Greene theater. The production marks the fourth time Curtis has been involved in the show. He previously has directed a production, acted in a production and directed a production that he also acted in.
“In every theater where I’ve done it in the past, it’s gone over like gangbusters,” Curtis said.
A big reason for the play’s popularity is that playwright Ken Ludwig wrote a great script, he added, emphasizing: “As a director I need to make sure the details are crisp and sharp and then just get out of the way. It doesn’t need a bunch more of my help.”
Ludwig’s play was a big hit both in London’s West End and on Broadway when it first opened in the late 1980s. Since then, it’s been translated into 16 languages, produced in 25 countries and become a staple of the community theater circuit.
“What’s good about the show is that there is nothing to offend anyone. Audience members are just laughing at other people’s foibles,” Curtis said.
The action centers on the efforts of a cash-strapped Cleveland opera company to rescue its finances by signing internationally famous tenor Tito Merelli to play the clown in Pagliacci. Merelli arrives late and, depressed over an argument with his wife, passes out after mixing wine with a heavy dose of tranquilizers. Believing his star is dead, the panicked opera manager recruits his put-upon assistant to suit up in the clown’s costume and take Merelli’s place on stage.
Helping the fun along are the opera manager’s somewhat naïve daughter, the opera’s ingenue soprano, the “grand dame” chairwoman of the opera guild and an obnoxious bellhop who turns up at inappropriate moments asking for Merelli’s autograph.
Needless to say, all sorts of misunderstandings and complications arise.
The key to making a farce work is building the chaos gradually and playing the action as realistically as possible, Curtis said, noting the characters in Lend Me a Tenor “are very real people in unreal situations.”
The production features CRT regular Drew Kahl, who has appeared in more than 15 shows at the Greene playhouse. Returning after last season’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are Andrea Gregori and Brian Linden. Rounding out the cast, all making their CRT debuts, are Ryan Canavan, Nancy Kane, Pasqualino Beltempo, Melody Ladd and Bethany Kasper.
Kasper, an Arkansas native, is also making her professional debut as Maggie, the opera manger’s daughter. She moved to New York City in 2020 to study at the prestigious Stella Adler School of Acting after studying theater at the University of Arkansas.
“I love a good comedy,” said Kasper, who acted in the farce Boeing-Boeing while in college. “A show like this is where people can escape from whatever’s happening and just have a good time,” she said.
Lend Me a Tenor is the first production in a CRT season that, by design, is offering four widely different shows, Curtis said.
Next up is SHOUT! The Mod Musical, which focuses on the music and fashions of “Swinging London” in the 1960s. It will run July 14-Aug. 6. Suspense will take the stage Aug. 25-Sept. 17 with the hit thriller Wait Until Dark about a blind woman being terrorized in her apartment by two criminals. The season will conclude with the historical drama The Mountaintop, which imagines what might have happened at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis the night before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It will run Oct. 6-22.
Lend Me a Tenor will feature costume, lighting, sound and scenic design from Barbara Kahl, Grant E. Merges, Jeffrey Alan Smith and Justin Hooper, respectively. Dori May Ganisin is assistant director. Taylor Harvey is the intimacy coordinator.
On Friday, June 9, there will be a post-show talkback with the director and members of the cast.
IF YOU GO: Chenango River Theatre will present Lend Me a Tenor at its playhouse, 991 State Highway 12, Greene, June 2-25. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $27. The best way to order tickets is to go to CRT’s website: www.chenangorivertheatre.org. You also can call the box office at 607-656-8499 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Season tickets (for all four shows) start at $90. Free tickets for high school and college students are available at all evening performances. Email email@example.com for student reservations, which are required.