Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
More than 35 years after the premiere of Ken Ludwig's beloved farce Lend Me a Tenor, the Olney Theatre Center in suburban Maryland is presenting Lend Me a Soprano–Ludwig's reworking of his play, which follows the outlines of the original but with all but one role gender-reversed–on its Roberts Mainstage. It's still great fun, with the additional boost of seeing usually serious actors in unexpectedly zany roles.
Eleanor Holdridge's direction propels the action at a hilariously rapid pace, helping each performer bring out character nuances (including an onstage duet) while holding the whole thing together.
The setting is still Cleveland in 1934, where the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera, Lucille Wiley (Tina Stafford), has achieved the coup of getting Italian soprano Elena Firenzi (Carolann M. Sanita) to make her U.S. debut. Mrs. Wiley's son Jerry (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), a lawyer and a feverish opera fan, has been in love with Elena from afar for years, to the consternation of Jo (Rachel Felstein), his mother's mousy assistant and, she had thought, his fiancée.
As is required in farce, the complications pile up, including Elena's overwrought husband (Dylan Arredondo), an amorous tenor (Tom Patterson), a clueless grande dame (Donna Migliaccio), a resourceful bellhop (Natalya Lynette Rathnam), and–most crucially–two identical Carmen costumes. It all takes place on Andrew Cohen's lavish hotel suite set, packed with elegant design touches and many, many doors.
Among the performers, Felstein charms as the nerdy Jo, who blossoms from an awkward, bespectacled, desperately shy nerd in mismatched clothes into a diva; Sanita and Arredondo wring every laugh out of their always-onstage characters; Stafford is properly stern until she is overcome by circumstances; Migliaccio is a force of nature, like her resplendent costume (designed by Sarah Cubbage); and Ebrahimzadeh finds the charm in a rather hangdog role.
The entire physical production has a high shine, including Alberto Segarra's scene-setting lighting design and Matt Rowe's clever sound design.
One small anachronism in the script: a character makes a reference to pantyhose, which were not invented until the 1950s.
Lend Me a Soprano runs through March 10, 2024, at Olney Theatre Center, Roberts Mainstage, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
By Ken Ludwig