There’s a certain irony that Old Log Theatre’s production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” a comedic romp about the desperate search for a replacement singer when the original is incapacitated, has found itself in a similar fix.
Just days before opening night, lead actress McKinnley Aitchison broke her foot. But in place of madcap hijinks involving closets, bathrooms and mistaken identity, the Old Log simply shuffled its cast members and let the show go on.
Ken Ludwig’s Tony-winning play is in the mold of the classic 1930s screwball comedies, with more than a few touches of classic farce tossed in for good measure.
It’s 1934 in Cleveland, and promoter Saunders (James Michael Detmar) and his lackey Max (David Beukema) are sweating out the late arrival of operatic tenor Tito (Luke Davidson), the star of that evening’s performance of Verdi’s “Otello.” When Tito does arrive, he’s the worse for wear. Add some sleeping pills and it appears the star has died in his sleep.
So what do the pair do? Well, it’s a farcical comedy, so they have Max dress up in Tito’s Othello costume and have him sing the part, of course. After they leave to put their harebrained scheme into play, Tito wakes up and puts on another Othello costume.
All the while, both Max’s maybe fiancée Maggie (Elena Glass, substituting for Aitchison) and Tito’s co-star Diana (Jaclyn Juola, stepping into Glass’ role) are attempting to romance the Italian. By the end, we’ve got a real door-slamming farce going on.
The setup is often the toughest part of these shows, and “Lend Me a Tenor” takes its own sweet time getting started. The lengthy first scene is heavy on plot, less so on laughs. Once Tito is presumed dead, however, the pace picks up and the second act roars along like a well-oiled machine.
Much of the credit goes to Beukema, whose Max transforms from a henpecked schlub to someone who could command the stage in “Otello” and get the girl as well.
He’s aided by Detmar, who adds perfectly precise fury as the perennially angry promoter. Davidson provides a different kind of intensity as Tito, but also lets us see the softer, more generous side of the character, especially when he shares a singing lesson with Max.
And how did the shifted members of the company do? If I hadn’t known about the changes, I wouldn’t have noticed them at all. (Aitchison is expected to return as Maggie within a couple of weeks.) Glass and Juola seem natural in their roles, and Emily Rose Skinner (in Juola’s old role) matches Davidson’s wild, over-the-top Italian intensity as Tito’s wife.
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities theater critic.