Performing Arts: Lend Me a Tenor 

Low energy 
; Lend Me a Tenor
Through May 17 at Theatre Downtown
; 2113 N. Orange Ave.
; 407-841-0083
; $18

Lend Me a Tenor, by Ken Ludwig, is one of those shows that can, and does, get produced anywhere and everywhere, and is even headed this year for its first Broadway revival since the initial 1989 run. Why? Because the comedy is a light piece of froth fit for a small cast that can be equally divided between men and women and requires a simple set. There's no deep meaning or literary significance to the piece; the silly plot is merely a setup for the kind of breakneck shenanigans that are supposed to have the cartoon cast racing around the stage, mistaking identities, slamming doors, taking pratfalls and working up copious amounts of perspiration. In the hands of accomplished performers and adept physical comedians, Lend Me a Tenor can be a riot.

Unfortunately, its current manifestation at Theatre Downtown, directed by Frank Hilgenberg, misses that mark by a considerable margin, offering an evening that is poorly paced, underperformed and much less funny than it could be. That's mostly because the company appears to have made the mistake of playing the script as a comedy of words spoken by real people rather than a visual three-ring circus peopled by clowns. Without a commitment to over-the-top physicality, all of the play's weaknesses are exposed.

Structured as a simple farce, Lend Me a Tenor is set in 1934 inside a Cleveland hotel suite. There, an Italian opera star awaits his debut U.S. performance but passes out before the curtain rises. His last-ditch replacement is the mild-mannered assistant to the opera's impresario. Disguised in a wig and blackface for the leading role in Otello, Max pulls off the impersonation successfully.

Theatre Downtown's Lend Me a Tenor does have its funny moments. If the players can ramp up the tempo and take more risks, they might realize the work's comic potential. It's not there yet.


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