Songs slow the action of musical ‘Tenor’

Ken Ludwig’s 1989 farce "Lend Me a Tenor" — about the bedlam that ensues when an opera singer dies just before a performance — feels like a musical. So it’s only natural that we finally get a song-and-dance version, this one titled, lest we get confused, "Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical."

It’s the sort of mindless diversion with enough slamming doors and mistaken identities to guarantee a fiscally healthy number of laughs. And the authors couldn’t ask for a better production. The cast — from Joe Vincent as a hard-headed producer to chorus members that charm by their mere presence — is as professional as Roger Bean’s clean, fast-paced direction.

It’s only when you listen closely that you realize what a junky enterprise this is.

Writers Peter Sham (book and lyrics) and Brad Carol (music) obviously know their musicals. What they’ve done here is give us a whirlwind of imitation Gershwin, Coleman and Comden and Green. (The score often gets dangerously close to "On the Twentieth Century.") It’s one thing to do a skillful pastiche; it’s another to simply sound like everything else.

The appeal of the play is its logical frenetic activity. Some of that is still here, but too often the songs simply slow down the action.

Sham has concocted a theme: Be yourself, which is a nice generic theme for a family musical. To help define the character of the restless Maggie (Jane Noseworthy), Sham has her chirp, "I want to swing!/ I need a fling!"

When the famous tenor Tito Merelli (the invincible Steven Stein-Grainger) gives advice to the nerdy Max Garber (the charming Jered Tanner) about how to perform, he croons, "You’ve got to feel a song before you sing it/You’ve got to feel a song before you spring it."

When Max says he yearns for a big break in showbiz, the producer retorts with, "You want a big break? Jump off the roof." I wonder in what way this twaddle is supposed to be enriching Ludwig’s script?

Occasionally, a quartet number will show promise (but not go anywhere), or a double-entendre will hit the mark (and make you wish the score was richer in them). But despite the production’s appealing lushness, this show doesn’t justify its existence.

Yesterday is over, and if you’re going to repeat it, you need to at least filter it through some creative angle. Imitation is not enough.

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