Damien Humbley and Michael Matus
in Lend Me a Tenor the Musical
(© Tristram Kenton)
Damien Humbley and Michael Matus
in Lend Me a Tenor the Musical
(© Tristram Kenton)
There are two genuine show-stopping sequences in Lend Me a Tenor The Musical, the adaptation of Ken Ludwig's 1986 farce now at the Gielgud, and you have to cherish them. Otherwise, lyricist-librettist Peter Sham and composer Brad Carroll don't make a persuasive argument for the need to splice tunes into what's already a tightly-wound and well-respected work.

Both audience-igniters occur when the plot actually calls for the characters to sing. In the first, timid opera prompter Max (the amazingly adept and only initially humble Damian Humbley) is instructed by visiting tenor Tito Merelli (the brilliant-voiced and funny Michael Matus) on how to open his throat in a ditty called "Be Yourself." He does, thrillingly.

The second explodes when ambitious soprano Diana DiVane (sexily zaftig Sophie-Louise Dann) insists on auditioning for the put-upon Merelli and floats a beautifully sung survey of favorite femme arias.

There is a third instance of excitement -- when choreographer Randy Skinner stages a number in the Cleveland Hotel (the notably lavish and shifting set and sparkling costumes are by Paul Farnsworth), where the toe-tapping staff show off their excitement at the arrival of Merelli and tempestuous wife Maria (Joanna Riding). Too bad the always creative Skinner, with his mastery of old-time entertainment tricks, wasn't asked for more. The same goes, by the way, for the usually reliable Riding, who's required by the script to disappear for quite a while.

The major problem with this undertaking is that havoc is wreaked with dramatic thrust by stopping the spinning-top activity for songs in which, say, young romantic interest Maggie Saunders (the pretty and comic Cassidy Janson) expresses her need for affection from Tito and from Max.

Only in the second act, when Tito is thought to have died and Max has replaced him and triumphed in the pivotal production of Verdi's Otello do the songwriters allow director Ian Talbot to let the play rule, as the many doors essential to any farce open and shut resoundingly with various people -- at least three of them dressed as Otello -- hiding behind them.

Maybe if the Sham-Carroll contributions were much better than they are, things would have been more effervescent. Morever, the songwriters decided to hew to the waning post-Hello, Dolly! demand that every show have a title tune. This one -- with its melody calling to mind the Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley "Who Can I Turn To?"-- is sung by Janson and begins with these words: "Lend Me a Tenor/Lend me your love." What more need be said?

Additional detractions include a bombastic turn by Matthew Kelly as bankrupt-threatened impresario Henry Saunders, who seems to think that since this is a farce, he's required to shout his lines. Plus, there are any number of feeble jokes, the dumbest of which are put in the mouth of a dumb-blonde society lady (pert Michelle Bishop, who, bless her, doesn't shy away from them).

Truth to tell, Lend Me a Tenor should probably have been left alone, although Ludwig might give some thought to inserting the two stellar singing sections into his fun-filled piece.