Ken Ludwig knows how to get a laugh.
And the West Allis Players, under the direction of Katherine Beeson, had everything working on opening night to get those laughs during Ludwig’s best-known play, “Lend Me a Tenor.”
The show was Ludwig’s first Broadway play, opening in 1989, and earned three Tony awards. It also earned Ludwig a reputation for being a master of farce.
You can’t get much more farcical than “Lend Me a Tenor,” with its array of confusions: a presumed dead star tenor, two men dressed as Otello, two women vying for the singer’s attentions, an uppity patron of the arts, a tightly-wound hotel general manager and a pesky bellhop.
The show opens onto Scott Fudali’s solid, nicely appointed set, revealing a two-room suite at a swank Cleveland Hotel in 1934. Maggie (Jonelle Krajewski) is listening to a recording of Tito Morelli, the star tenor over whom women swoon, and swaying as if in his arms. Morelli (Nicholas Callan Haubner), who will be staying in the suite, is to be the featured performer at a show hosted that evening by the Cleveland Opera Guild in honor of its 10th anniversary.
Max (Fudali) bursts in on Maggie, his long-time girlfriend, and is frantic because Morelli has not yet arrived and he is the factotum in charge of the star. Equally frazzled is Saunders (Bill Kaiser), Maggie’s dad, who manages the hotel. His major concern is the money he’ll lose if the star doesn’t show
When Morelli finally does arrive, he and his fiery Italian wife, Maria (Stacy Madson), are arguing, the star is sick from over-indulgence and the rehearsal scheduled with the star for the evening’s performance is in question.
“You gonna waka up in a bed and be a soprano,” Madson’s Maria spits out at her husband.
But the situation turns from bad to worse when Morelli doesn’t wake up from a nap for the performance. Max, a wannabe opera singer, gets his chance, but when two Otellos show up after the show the series of hilarious mishaps turns to farce.
There are six doors, including one between the two rooms of the suite, and the play requires some pretty nifty maneuvering to keep all the plates twirling on the poles. This cast handles that nicely, with just a few sluggish moments on opening night.
Haubner, as always, is a treat to watch. His Morelli is finely tuned, complete with accent, charm and a strong, operatic tenor voice.
Fudali, as Max is a good match -- as the two must somewhat resemble each other – and handles his insecure character well. He’s got some good lines early on and delivers them for laughs. When Maggie talks about the time Morelli kissed her palm, he mutters, “He’s Italian … they kiss everything.” The scene in which Morelli gives Max a few pointers on how to relax to get the best sound is quite a treat. However, Fudali’s voice is a bit on the thin side compared to Haubner’s much heftier tenor.
Kaiser’s Saunders is a bundle of nerves, from the moment he learns of Morelli’s tardiness through all of the confusions. At first, Kaiser’s energy seems overwhelming, but he maintains that level throughout, giving his character consistency. I liked the way he keeps his focus on his character, ranting about, dismissing some while patronizing others to keep the show—and his financial situation—afloat. A scene in which he tries to wake the sleeping Morelli is over the top, but hilarious.
Krajewski does a nice job of conveying Maggie’s longing for something more exciting than her staid boyfriend, Max. Her earnestness is appealing.
Madson’s Maria is also nicely rendered, as she gives her character plenty of passion.
Renee Renzell as Diana, who plays opposite Morelli in the evening performance, takes firm control of her diva character, moving like a star. She really engages the audience and wears her exquisite, shimmering gown as if she owns it. Renzell’s scene with Haubner in Act II, in which there is a hilarious misunderstanding, is rich.
In smaller roles, Eric Madson as the bellhop who will stop at nothing to get Morelli’s autograph and attention, and director Beeson give solid performances.
Ludwig’s trademark breakneck speed backward retelling of the play at its end is always a fun bit, and this cast pulls it off wonderfully, with a blur of their characters racing through doors with split-second precision.
If you go
Who: West Allis Players
What: “Lend Me a Tenor”
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15, 2 p.m. Oct. 16
Where: West Allis Central High School, 8516 W. Lincoln Ave., West Allis
Info/tickets: westallisplayers.org, email@example.com