Someone asked me if I’ve seen the current local production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” and I burst out laughing. That pretty much sums up the whole affair. The rest of the laughter you may hear is coming directly from Ambler, where Act II Playhouse has a mighty grip on the farce and won’t let go.
“Lend Me a Tenor” may be the most popular farce of the past few decades. It’s been performed all over the world and it wasn’t even written by a playwright from Britain, where farces are still considered a typical form of comedy. (Here, many people consider them extreme.) The madcap play is the work of a son of Pennsylvania, Ken Ludwig, who hails from York. He wrote it in 1986 and it did premiere in London, then came to Broadway three years later and was revived there three years ago in a wildly liberating romp.
But neither wilder nor more liberating than the production Bud Martin, the Broadway producer who leads the Delaware Theatre Company, has staged for Act II in Ambler, the stage company he formerly led. Dirk Durossette, the designer, has provided a set with six doors, including one mid-stage that separates two rooms of a hotel suite – and with six doors for hiding or pushing in people and their belongings, you know what you’re in for the moment you sit down in the theater.
The play is non-stop funny and this production is Big Fun. I caught up with it late in the game after word of mouth sold it solidly; the run has been extended and those seats are steadily filling. Tony Braithwaite, the current artistic director of Act II and quite possibly the current dean of Philadelphia comic actors, plays the head of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, who is waylaid by all-around actor Jeffrey Coon as a womanizing, hard-drinking and reckless but famous Italian tenor who’s come to sing for company’s big 10th-season anniversary.
Other busy Philadelphia actors in the cast are Howie Brown, who does a swell turn in a minor bellhop role; Eileen Cella, adorable as the young love interest and Michael Doherty, wonderful as her bumbling beau who somehow gets the best of everyone. Tracie Higgins is the highly emotional long-suffering wife of the opera singer, Linda Friday is the big-shot from the opera board and Mariel Rosati is an opera singer who wants to use the famous tenor as her ladder up and out of Cleveland. By the end of the show they are all embarrassed or deceived or mistaken for someone else, or one-upped when they’re not upping one another. “Lend Me a Tenor” is everything you want in a great farce, and Act II Playhouse has everything it demands in a production.
“Lend Me a Tenor” runs through June 8 at Act II Playhouse, 56 East Butler Ave., Ambler. 215-654-0200 or www.act2.org.