Mistaken identity lends itself to laughs in 2nd Star's gem 'Lend Me a Tenor'

Depressed about the stock market? Cheer up at Bowie Playhouse, where 2nd Star Productions' spring presentation has opened - the Ken Ludwig farce, "Lend Me a Tenor."

Since its 1989 debut, the comic tale of mistaken identity has been classified among the funniest of contemporary American plays. Although I enjoyed Paragon's version of "Tenor" about a year ago, this version seems almost entirely new and even more hilarious.


This comedy seems to be an unending source of laughs - which 2nd Star apparently embraces, having opened with "Tenor" as its very first show in 1996 and choosing now to bring it back.

Ludwig's zany plot has a Cleveland opera audience waiting for famous tenor Tito Merelli to sing "Otello." Merelli arrives late, with his jealous wife, Maria, and not feeling well - he takes a few pills, washes them down with Chianti, and falls asleep so soundly that opera manager Henry Saunders and his assistant Max must find a substitute Otello.


2nd Star has a strong cast headed by John Parry in an exciting debut as Max, the likable suitor of Saunders' daughter, Maggie. Almost continuously on stage, Parry has masterful comic timing and is unbelievably loose-jointed, a skilled actor, and a more than acceptable tenor. His scenes with the Italian tenor Merelli are comic gems.

Joe Brunetti, repeating in the role of Merelli for 2nd Star, is so hilarious that I can only assume he has refined his art, as any great tenor would. Brunetti is a fascinating combination of womanizer and clown, irresistible to women and yet not a scoundrel - just a warm, approachable guy who is unfailingly kind to bellhops and flunkeys.

Of course, he cannot reject any woman's request for an autograph.

Brunetti sings well enough to be almost convincing as a world-class tenor, and his Italian language skills seemed adequate. However, during intermission, having overheard two Italian women engaged in conversation, I asked their opinion of Tito's and Maria's Italian, and one replied: "Tito and Maria are fine, but we would understand them better if they spoke English."

Heather Tuckfield plays Maria, a jealous wife driven senseless with rage as she discovers a trail of evidence confirming Tito's continuing dalliances.

Rachel Zampelli is attractive as Maggie, a role that requires little more than beauty. Having met Merelli a year earlier, Maggie is determined to renew the acquaintance.

In that pursuit, Maggie is joined by mature opera guild patron Julia, played by Dani Wildason, who is less discreet about pursuing Tito. Wildason was seen last fall in 2nd Star's "Rumors."

Rounding out the eight-member cast are veteran actor John Degnan, who plays Saunders with the right combination of exasperated sputter toward Merelli, barks orders at Max and displays fatherly protectiveness toward Maggie.


Nancy Dall is ambitious soprano Diana, whose siren song has become a major part of her repertoire. Dall is hilarious in the seduction scene she shares with Zampelli's Maggie as they each set about seducing Tito in separate rooms of his hotel suite.

Finally there is the frustrated singer-bellhop, well-played by Wendell Holland, most recently seen in 2nd Star's "Brigadoon."

Director John Guyton has done a masterful job creating controlled pandemonium - doors slamming as women in various stages of undress run in and out of closets and two identically dressed Otellos enter and exit without ever colliding.

And as usual, 2nd Star's set is a work of art, this time the fantastic creation of Lynne Wilson.

"Lend Me a Tenor" continues weekends through April 7 at Bowie Playhouse, located in Whitemarsh Park. Information: www.2ndstar; reservations, 410-757-5700 or 301-858-7245.