Lend Me a Tenor

Opera Glasses

Sucker Pucker: Danny Kovacs and Sharon Drake costar in ‘Lend Me a Tenor.’

Photo by Dan Greenberg

Backstage wit in ‘Lend Me a Tenor’

By Daedalus Howell

HOT DAMN! Rohnert Park’s Spreckels Performing Arts Center is the crown jewel of Sonoma County’s live theater spaces. And this season, it receives a delightful buff to its sheen with Pacific Alliance Stage Company’s production of Ken Ludwig’s sex romp Lend Me a Tenor, directed by Spreckels’ artistic director Michael Grice.

Set in mid-1930s Cleveland, Tenor depicts the imbecilic undertakings of a young opera company that has engaged world-renowned tenor Tito Merilli (played with lusty panache and a hint of Pavarotti by Kevin Blackton) for a fundraising gala. The profligate Tito is placed under the charge and surveillance of horn-rimmed milquetoast Max (topnotch nebbish Danny Kovacs), who is the lackey of scheming theater owner, Saunders (Will Marchetti).

Over-the-top, door-slamming, dress-dropping comedy soon evolves in the tradition of writers Kaufman & Hart (You Can’t Take it With You), albeit with a dollop more sex, death, and celebrity worship. Mistaken identities, bed-hopping, and lingerie abound in this predictable but charming two-act burlesque aptly directed by Grice.

An alpha-male par excellence, Kevin Blackton’s Tito is also a tender buffoon who happily sidesteps caricature despite employing a fatuous accent and several joyous forays into clamor.

Danny Kovacs deploys the guardian Max so that the character’s inevitable revelations are believable, despite the comedy’s farcical nature. His pursuit of Maggie, the archetypal Boss’s Daughter (played with gawky aplomb by Sharon Drake), makes for some of the production’s finer moments, as the two pitch each other into emotional Mexican stand-offs with her father at the apex.

Maggie, a character infatuated with the exotic Tito and with the notion of inaugurating a carefree personal life comprised of consecutive sexual flings, benefits from Drake’s star-struck portrayal, often freezing–arms akimbo and mouth agape–as if awaiting a tonsillectomy.

Marchetti magnificently plays Maggie’s father, the stodgy man-of-means Saunders, steamrolling through the action, barking orders and eating the wax fruit. Marchetti is a brawny comic actor able to simultaneously present a fiery but beguiled character, bringing an emotional depth not even required to this admittedly light fare.

Marchetti’s fervor is matched by Marie Shell’s peppery portrayal of Tito’s buxom, swaggering wife Maria. Clad in a spectacular fur-trimmed vermillion traveling ensemble (created by costume coordinator and stage manager Mary Jo Goss), Maria ups the ante of sexual politicking, in turns thwarting and abetting Tito’s infidelity.

Bottle-blonde stage siren Diana, played to the cartoonish hilt by Carol Anne Brown, is a saucy ladder-climber who uses her feminine wiles to shimmy up the rungs of the opera world. Brown smolders and titillates as she careens bawdily about John Connole’s superbly crafted set–two rooms of an upscale hotel suite–which deftly utilizes every inch of Spreckels’ palatial main stage. Connole’s adroit, understated lighting design is a fine complement to the often breakneck action.

Lend Me a Tenor is infallible evidence that director Grice knows how to assemble and activate talent. Under his guidance, the Pacific Alliance Stage Company is certainly worthy of their happy home.

Lend Me a Tenor sings through Oct. 19 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Oct. 10-11 and 17-18 at 8 p.m.; Oct. 12 and 19 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-$10. 584-1700.

From the Oct. 9-15, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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