Total Rating: 
April 11, 2014
April 27, 2014
Milwaukee Chamber Theater
Theater Type: 
Milwaukee Chamber Theater - Cabot Theater
Theater Address: 
158 North Broadway
Running Time: 
2 hrs, 15 min
Ken Ludwig
C. Michael Wright

Milwaukee Chamber Theater closes its current season with the madcap mayhem of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor. Every aspect of this production gleams with professional precision, making this a highlight of the company’s current season.

Set in 1934, the play displays the impeccable comic timing of a first-class farce. A renowned Italian tenor comes to Cleveland on the eve of a special performance by the “Cleveland Grand Opera Company.” Tito, the tenor, will play Othello in a production that has more surprises in store than anyone could imagine. Waiting for the tenor to arrive in his sumptuous hotel suite (which truly is sumptuous in the tasteful creation by Rachel Finn) are the Cleveland opera’s producer, his daughter and her milquetoast would-be fiancé.

In a private moment before the tenor arrives, the couple discuss the nature of their relationship. Maggie (Hannah Klapperich-Mueller), young and yearning for a “fling,” wants to live a little before thinking of settling down. Besides, she confesses to her disheartened beau (Rick Pendzich), she really isn’t in love with him. Before the night is over, however, all this will change.

Ken Ludwig’s play was first produced in London’s West End and then moved to Broadway in 1989. The original Broadway production won three Tony Awards. It was revived on Broadway in 2010, starring Wisconsin’s own Tony Shalhoub (best known as TV’s “Monk”). The revival was staged at the Music Box Theater.

The Milwaukee production is to be commended for a seamless integration of professional artists and theater faculty/students from nearby Marquette University. Only two of the cast members are university students: Klapperich-Mueller as Maggie and a nosy bellhop with attitude, played by Peter Sisto. They blend in nicely with top-notch pros such as Pendzich, who effortlessly makes the necessary transformation from bow tie-wearing wimp to a stand-in for the famous tenor; Drew Brhel as the imperious producer whose blood pressure regularly rises at each mishap; Alexandra Bonesho as Diana, the vamp-ish soprano who wants to impress the famed tenor in the bedroom as well as onstage; Rana Roman as the tenor’s tempestuous wife, Maria; and Steven Koehler, whose accent and artistic temperament are well-suited to the role of Tito Merelli. Credit goes to director C. Michael Wright, who is also the company’s artistic producing director, for maintaining the pace and expertly cueing the actors to keep the fragile comedy afloat.

In a cameo appearance, Linda Loving also impresses as Julia, head of the local opera guild. Dressed in a god-awful shiny silver outfit (“a Paris original,” she coos), Julia is a gray-haired dowager who won’t be dissuaded from her romantic attempts to corner the famous Tito. One almost feels sorry for Tito as he expertly extracts her from his hotel suite.

However, Tito is not so quick to let the ravishing Diana slip away. He has a tryst with her in his bedroom at the very moment that Max (Pendzich), still disguised as Othello, wins the heart (and body) of the lovely Maggie in the suite’s sitting room.

Once Tito’s wife returns, the comedy is bumped up a notch as Roman takes charge of the situation. Her voice and gestures are hysterical to watch as she extricates the two young women (Bonesho and Klapperich-Mueller) from her husband’s hotel suite. Maria’s efficiency is borne out of the fact she has performed this task many times over the years. (Among the images one takes away from Lend Me a Tenor is that of Maria dramatically tossing a fur scarf over her shoulders.)

Aside from the clever costuming and many-doored set, this production benefits from a solid lighting design that takes the stage from daytime scenes to full black-outs. There’s no doubt that Lend Me a Tenor is guaranteed to put “spring” in one’s step as one of the year’s funniest comedies.

Hannah Klapperich-Mueller (Maggie), Rick Pendzich (Max), Drew Brhel (Saunders), Steven M. Koehler (Tito Merelli), Rana Roman (Maria) (Alexandra Bonesho (Diana)
Set: Rachel Finn; Costumes: Debra Krajec; Lighting: Nic Trapani; Sound, Chris Guse.
Anne Siegel
Date Reviewed: 
April 2014