This show is the offspring of a 1986 play of the same title by Ken Ludwig. It has book and lyrics by Peter Sham and music by Brad Carroll. In the lead as manager of the Cleveland Opera House is Matthew Kelly and the show is directed by Ian Talbot, who was artistic director of the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park until 2008.
The plot initially has the semblance of reality, but goes over the edge of believability in double-quick time. All the hallmarks of farce are writ large here: mistaken identity, improbably situations, sexual innuendo and almost every other element of farce you could imagine seems to get a look-in The basic storyline is that an Italian tenor is due to sing Verdi's Otello, but is nowhere to be seen. The manager is frantic as his head is on the block if the opera should be a flop. Eventually the famous tenor arrives and is duly installed in his glitzy hotel suite, but when he is given something to help him sleep, he is taken for dead and a wannabe singer at the opera house steps in and performs the role. Hmmmm. That sounds exactly like a farce, doesn't it?
The plot, in fact, could be much more extreme, so maybe we should be thankful it didn't go any further in the direction of the completely ludicrous. The humour, I'm afraid, is largely tame with the whiff of something long past it's sell-by date. There are quite long interludes where no-one laughs at all, presumably because the humour is hardly inspirational. In fact, the audience seemed to get more fun from the ensemble than the main characters. The hotel maids and bell hops break into song at regular intervals and two of them perform a great tap dance which also gets a reprise towards the end.
In the music department, the songs all seem rather familiar though they are largely hummable and melodic, and carry the show along quite well. There are a couple of fine songs which, in spite of their cheesy messages are well-performed. Damian Humbley as Max and Michael Matus, who plays the Italian tenor, have very fine voices and produce a magnificent duet together.
I fail to understand why directors insist on making English actors speak with American accents when clearly they cannot do it. Surely there is some way to resolve this issue and preserve the dignity of the actors as well as save the audience considerable pain. I'm afraid Matthew Kelly's accent is a mongrel whose origins are best left undiscovered. But the idea that Mr Kelly's accent was acquired across the pond, is stretching even farce to it's utter limits. And it seemed to me that, focusing on his accent, left him I'll at ease with the characterisation.
Taken as a whole, 'Lend Me A Tenor' turns out not to be anything like as dire as I had expected given the title and the genre. The plot is ludicrous, but since it's a farce, that gives it the all clear. The singing is good and sometimes very impressive. As you'd expect with Ian Talbot at the helm, there are some neat tricks with business and movement and there's a fine set by Paul Farnsworth which slides and unfolds to form the bedroom, where most of the action is set, as well the other locations. In fact, the audience liked the set so much they gave it a well-deserved round of applause. However, the show has a rather dated feel to it both in terms of the plot and the humour, as if it is paying some kind of homage to days gone by. There's certainly nothing new or even vaguely innovative which stretches the genre in a new direction. If farce is your thing, it may well appeal, but don't expect much in the way of surprises.
"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."
Dominic Cavendish for The Daily Telegraph
"It gets by on period charm and one dazzling knockout number."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Polished but instantly forgettable musical...It skips along breezily without a single memorable tune or unforced rhyme."
Nick Curtis for The Evening Standard