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Review Round-up: Talbot Lends Gielgud a Tenor

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Lend Me A Tenor opened last night (15 June, previews from 2 June 2011) at the West End's Gielgud Theatre, bringing Ken Ludwig's 1982 play back to the theatre as a musical with book and lyrics by Peter Sham and score by Brad Carroll.

Ian Talbot's production brings Matthew Kelly, Damian Humbley, Michael Matus and Sophie-Louise Dann with it from the show's Theatre Royal, Plymouth try-out run. They are joined in the cast by two-time Olivier Award-winner Joanna Riding as well as Cassidy Janson, Gay Soper, Jane Quinn and Michelle Bishop.

Lend Me A Tenor tells the story of renowned tenor Tito Merelli, known as "Il Stupendo", about to play Otello; his biggest role to date. However, trouble soon arises during the final dress rehearsal, in the form of as a case of mistaken identity, double entendres and innuendoes. It is left to mousy director's assistant Max to find a replacement for Tito when the final dress rehearsal spirals out of control and he is unable to fulfil his role.

Simon Edge

"Ian Talbot's production is faultlessly cast, with a lumbering, bearish Matthew Kelly as the neurotic impresario Henry Saunders; Michael Matus as the heart-throb Italian tenor Tito Merelli; Joanna Riding as Merelli's jealous, vengeful wife Maria; Damian Humbley as Max, the geek with the voice of a god who ends up drugging and replacing Tito in Verdi's Otello; and Cassidy Janson as Saunders' daughter Maggie ... The sets, have been sumptuously dressed by Paul Farnsworth, and there are some shimmering moments. Sophie-Louise Dann, as the brassy diva Diana, stops the show with an audition number called 'May I Have A Moment', combining a medley of classical opera with low comedy to hilarious effect. Unfortunately the moments of originality are few in a show that could have been written any time in the past five decades... and the title song makes no sense when put in the mouth of Maggie, a character who has no need of anyone to lend her a tenor. There is too little of the hugely enjoyable choreography while the slapdash plotting of the original material breaks the cardinal rule of farce that, however preposterous the action, it must be entirely believable when you’re caught up in it. It's all harmless … But ultimately it's no more than impeccably directed fluff, which is frustrating given the talents on show."

Libby Purves
The Times

"Ken Ludwig play with Peter Sham’s book and Brad Carroll’s music is, like Phantom, a musical about opera. But while Lloyd Webber’s work… is a supreme emotional expression, this one assumes that it is mainly a preposterous world of divas and funny foreigners, where Otello rhymes with Jell-O. There are some lameish jokes… so that the immense Matthew Kelly and the slight Humbley are interchangeable with Merelli. But hell, this is farce ... There are some fine set pieces: a duet between Max and his deceived girlfriend Maggie Cassidy Janson shows his operatic tenor behind the musical-theatre lightness and her lovely romantic voice and ability to handle big character numbers. But Sophie-Louise Dann as Diana, the local diva, has the comic gem of the night. A spoofy surtitled operatic row between the Merellis is fun too, and Kelly, looking unnervingly like Lord Howe of Aberavon, is the beleaguered manager and milks it like a man. My fourth star hovered for a while, uncertain: it was won by the unforced glee of the preview audience. For it’s a good-hearted show with real laughs: not to be sniffed at."

Michael Billington

"First-rate musical farces, are rare for one obvious reason: the songs tend to hold up the action. But... Ken Ludwig's 1986 play doesn't avoid all the pitfalls, it gets by on period charm and one dazzling knockout number ... The high point comes when the company's Desdemona turns up in Morelli's bedroom to demonstrate her operatic wares. Sophie-Louise Dann seizes her moment and gives wonderfully over-the-top potted parodies of Tosca, Violetta and Carmen, while hugging the walls and clawing the furniture ... Ian Talbot's production does all it can to keep the plot boiling with an orgy of door-slamming, and there is a good moment when tapdancing bellhops and pirouetting chambermaids remind us that everyone in America thinks they're in show business. Matthew Kelly huffs and puffs a lot as the dyspeptic theatre manager, but there are good performances from Damian Humbley as the bespectacled nerd who takes on Otello, Michael Matus as the authentic Italian article, and Joanna Riding as his explosive spouse."

Dominic Cavendish

"This is a new souped-up, song- and dance-spiced version of Ken Ludwig’s 1986 comedy … Putting the ooh-er into opera, the play…orchestrates an old-fashioned imbroglio of flimsy disguises, mistaken identities and bedroom farcicality. Composer Brad Carroll, with Peter Sham supplying book and lyrics, pick up on the conceit of imposture. The added numbers borrow and steal the jazzy rags of Twenties and Thirties standards and old-style show tunes... to pleasing ersatz effect ... It’s all passably entertaining – if you’re prepared to accept this light-hearted and sometimes laboured mix of high art, high jinks and hokum for the fluff and nonsense it is. The songs – with flip, throwaway lines – are barely memorable, the dance sequences fine but infrequent and emotions are brought to the boil with all the sophistication of four-minute pasta."

Nick Curtis
Evening Standard

“What to say about this polished but instantly forgettable musical? ... It skips along breezily without a single memorable tune or unforced rhyme. It has farcical moments, but only Matthew Kelly, as the opera house manager, imbues them with the right sense of sweaty desperation. The romantic leads are melodic but insipid, and the comedy honours are stolen by Joanna Riding and Michael Matus as caricature fiery Italians with shaddap-you-face accents. The whole thing is slickly enough directed by Ian Talbot, who was in the original play, although he does tend to crowd his cast into corners. But it took a concerted act of will to remember anything more than the broadest details on the way home. The arc of the story is almost embarrassingly predictable ... Brad Carroll's music and Peter Sham's lyrics are full of guff about being yourself and following your dreams. Incidentally, none of Carroll's own compositions compares to the pastiche medley of arias he crafts for an otherwise underused diva character ... There's a disjunction here between retrogressive comedy and modern musical sentiment, and the result is blandness. I did like the tap-dancing bellboys, but that's faint praise, I know.”

- Caitlin Robertson


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