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'Lend Me a Tenor' brings nonstop energy, mistaken identity to stage

A classic farce set in Cleveland, Ohio, will close the New Century Players’ season, when “Lend Me a Tenor” opens on April 11 in Rex Putnam High School’s Blackbox Theatre.

by: PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Debra Hudkins, left, admonishes Doug Jacobs, as admirers Allison Andersen and Jane Vogel claim his attention. Kraig Williams keeps an eye out in the background.Director Tony Bump described the play as a “rip-roaring comedy” that will transport the audience “into a world of fun and yesteryear.”

He added, “ ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ is set in the early 1930s in a hotel room. The Cleveland Opera is hosting the greatest tenor in the world for his American debut, but everything goes wrong; doors are slammed, ladies chased and a budding new talent is discovered. All as the manager of the opera house tries not to have a heart attack.”

Tenors abound

by: PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Director Tony Bump, far right, works with Debra Hudkins and Kraig Williams, during a recent rehearsal of 'Lend Me a Tenor.'Gladstone resident Doug Jacobs plays Tito Merelli, a world-famous Italian opera star, rather full of his own pomp and circumstance and coming to Cleveland to make his U.S. debut in Verdi’s “Otello.”

“He plays the tough guy on the outside but we quickly discover his (many) weaknesses, not the least of which is a profound interest in the female form. He can be brash, charming, demanding and pleading and ... in his own mind, quite an impressive character,” Jacobs said.

He wanted to play the part, he added, because Tito is “a fun role in that there is a wild range of emotions that can be played with and expanded upon. Having been accused of being more than a little over-the-top at times myself, it just seemed sort of a natural fit.”

But Tito is not the only tenor on tap, as Kraig Williams plays Max, another aspiring singer. The problem is, Max is an assistant to Saunders, the owner of the opera company, so is often overlooked, and not just by his boss.

“I am the guy who keeps everything flowing for Saunders, but I also just happen to be in love with Maggie, his daughter,” Williams said.

He added that he relishes the role of Max, because he enjoys the physical comedy and is looking forward to the challenge of singing an operatic aria onstage.

Double trouble

At the beginning of the play, it is obvious that Maggie knows Max is in love with her, but she wants more; she wants some experiences first, Allison Andersen said.

“I don’t dislike him, but when Tito comes in, he’s a big star,” she added, explaining her character’s immediate attraction to the Italian tenor.

The problem is, however, that Tito has a jealous wife named Maria, who is constantly on guard, keeping an eye on her husband.

“Maria is a fiery, Sophia Loren-type with a hot temper. She is passionate, and has built her world around Tito,” but feels like she must compete with all the other women who swarm around her husband, Debra Hudkins said.

Jane E. Vogel plays Julia, yet another woman who is titillated by Tito’s charm.

“Julia takes her role as chairwoman of the opera guild very seriously. Power is very important to her. She is a woman who knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it,” Vogel said.

And then there is Diana, another opera singer played by Dorinda Toner, who is desperately trying to attract Tito’s attention.

So, we have four women, two tenors, a snarky bellhop, played by Zac Burgess, and Saunders, the stressed-out opera company owner trying to ride herd on all these characters.

“He’s very nervous and wants everything to be in place,” but circumstances arise, involving two tenors wearing identical “Otello” costumes and dark character makeup, “so I kind of freak out,” Doug Hudkins said.

Frenetic pace

“Lend Me a Tenor” is characterized by a burst of “headlong energy that starts to build from the opening act and never stops accelerating. I hope it is as much fun for the audiences as it has been for the cast,” Jacobs said, noting that he has two favorite scenes in the play.

“One is when Tito is trying to make up to his wife after a real blowout of an argument, and she surprises him by feeling immediately amorous ... at which he panics. Later he finds himself pursued by a dizzying wannabe star soprano and almost trips over himself trying to be debonair, while demonstrating a complete lack of command of the situation.”

Jacobs added, “A fantastic, interactive cast and director like we have for ‘Tenor’ is the only way to assure a successful production. I’m having a blast, and I believe the rest are as well. I hope we can transfer that energy directly to the hearts of the audience.”

Challenging play

Bump has always wanted to direct “Lend Me a Tenor” because it is “so well-written and full of physical comedy.”

He began his career as Squire Dap in a production of “Camelot” in 1979, and has been singing, acting and directing ever since.

As a performer he has played Petruchio in “Taming of the Shrew,” Daddy Warbucks in “Annie” and Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Some of his favorite nonmusicals that he has directed are “Agnes of God,” “Julius Caesar” and “Steel Magnolias.”

Bump studied theater and music at Portland State University, as well as at U.S. International University. He has sung with the Portland Opera at Carnegie Hall and is also the president of the new theater company “Pacific Stageworks.”

Bump added, “Comedy is challenging and fun, and I am always up for a challenge. I am also excited to work with the New Century Players for the first time.”

Too many tenors

What: The New Century Players present “Lend Me a Tenor,” a madcap comedy by Ken Ludwig.

When: 7:30 p.m. April 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19, and at 2 p.m. April 13 and 20

Where: Rex Putnam High School Blackbox Theatre, 4950 S.E. Roethe Road, Milwaukie

Tickets: General admission $18; students/seniors $12. Tickets are available online at NewCenturyPlayers.org; for more information, call 503-367-2620.

Cast: The play is directed by Tony Bump and features Allison Andersen, Zac Burgess, David Hudkins, Debra Hudkins, Doug Jacobs, Dorinda Toner, Jane Vogel and Kraig Williams.