Take two actors known more for their TV roles (Tony Shalhoub of Monk and Anthony LaPaglia of Without a Trace) add an actor best known for being missing from most of the running of his smash hit movie (Justin Bartha of The Hangover- he played Doug, the missing groom), and throw in a Tony-nominated performance from Broadway vet Jan Maxwell, and you've got one of the funniest comedies to hit Broadway this year- Lend Me A Tenor.
Shalhoub plays Saunders, the General Manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company in 1934, in a perfectly tuned performance. Saunders has arranged for the great Italian tenor, Tito Merelli (LaPaglia), to appear in Othello as a fundraiser. I don't recall seeing LaPaglia in a comedy before and he is marvelous. He has a genius scene with Bartha, (who plays Max, Saunders' assistant and love interest to Maggie, Saunders' daughter) where he teaches Max how to warm up his vocal chords.
The scene is a physically comedic marvel, and both actors shine. At the matinee performance I attended, Bartha fell as he was supposed to, then as he tried to stand, he fell again, and he and LaPaglia tried to hide their laughter to no avail. The audience ate it up, as they did later in the play when Shalhoub and Bartha cracked each other up in a scene. Bartha is hilarious in this, his first Broadway show. He has a promising stage career ahead of him.
LaPaglia and Maxwell, as his volatile Italian wife Maria, are a comedy dream team. They scream at each other and it is gold. Maxwell also has a scene where she grabs a long pillow over her head and she falls backwards. At the Q&A session at Barnes & Noble, Maxwell described how she improvised that bit in rehearsal and it worked so well it, it became a high point in the show. The show could have used more of Maxwell, she is brilliant and lights up the stage when she is on it.
As a farce, timing is everything, and the actors have impeccable timing. Doors slam, people enter and exit, and it is a whirlwind of activity, all in service of the comedy. At Barnes & Noble, the cast tried to explain how it all worked, but honestly, watching farce is much more interesting than listening to people talk about farce.
I wasn't sure I would like the show, and other than the first act being a bit too long, which the actors acknowledged in the Q&A, it was a perfect comedy. Mary Catherine Garrison, who plays Mary, seems to have a lock on 1930's ingenues (she played one last season in Accent on Youth), Jay Klaitz makes the most of his scenes as the "boisterous bellhop", Jennifer Laura Thompson is a tough cookie as the diva, and it's so good to see Shalhoub's real wife, the fabulous Brooke Adams, back on stage. She shines in her few scenes as the Chairman of the Opera Board.
Lend Me A Tenor ends on August 15th. If you like a good laugh (actually, lots of good belly laughs), you'll love this show. The second act in particular is as good a comedy as I have seen in a long time.