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Friday, 24 June 2011

'Lend me a Tenor' at The Geilgud Theatre

I am still not really sure what to make of ‘Lend me a Tenor’, the vintage farcical musical that has just opened in London’s West End. I went to the press night last week with an old school friend, both of us tired and sweaty after a long day’s work... we arrived to discover an audience dressed entirely in black tie - not a few eccentric oddballs - but everyone in ball gowns and bow ties. It was totally perplexing.

This audience, which I felt very un-part of, clapped at every opportunity, so much so that I began to feel I was amongst an enthusiastic cult group. The whole production is super camp and kitsch, but needs to be to make the humour work. The action is set at the Cleveland Opera House in 1934, and a production of Verdi’s Otello is in full swing. Tito Morelli, the star of the show fails to arrive on time for the rehearsal jeopardising the evening’s performance, sending the crew and cast into a panicked frenzy. Morelli eventually appears but is unable to perform after falling into a pill-induced deep sleep. The narrative only really gets going when the substitute tenor gets into costume, and the real tenor awakes, also in the Otello outfit, both claiming to be the genuine Tito Morelli.

It is a fun show, but unfortunately Brad Carroll’s music just isn’t good enough to keep the action interesting. Every song sounds the same, and even this reworked melody isn’t very memorable. One aria stood out however - the witty parody sung by stroppy singer Diana (the company’s Desdemona), an impressive collage of the most familiar opera divas: Tosca, Mimi and Carmen amongst others. Sophie-Louise Dann was zesty as Diana and gave a tremendous performance in this song particularly, throwing herself into the funny impersonations and still managing to sound in tune.

The audience loved it when Matthew Kelly strode on as the stressed company manager, Henry Saunders. Better known as a TV presentator, Kelly overdid it here, scowling and shouting so much it began to give me a headache. The unlikely hero, Max Garber is played by a very competent Damian Humbley. I thought he really excelled on the night, holding the cast together with a balanced and powerful performance.

The highlight for me in ‘Lend me a Tenor’ was the tap dancing waiters. Fast paced routines that were well executed by Nick Butcher and Ryan Pidgen on the night. I wished there was more dancing as it added another dimension to the otherwise rather samey show.

Lend me a Tenor continues until 19 November 2011.

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