LMAT Review – The Stage – 5 Stars

Lend Me A Tenor – The Musical

By Paul Vale | Thursday 16 June 2011

It was never going to be easy to turn a farce into a fully fledged musical. The breakneck rhythm of a farce does not sit easily with the required steady pace of a musical, but it has to be said that writer Peter Sham and composer Brad Carroll have come up trumps.

Damian Humbley (Max) and Michael Matus (Tito Merelli) in Lend Me A Tenor – The Musical at the Gielgud, London Photo: Tristram Kenton

Carroll’s rich score references the giddy, gay and shamelessly sentimental Broadway of the thirties, complimented by Sham’s witty lyrics. A huge debt is owed to Ken Ludwig’s much-lauded 1986 original play, which aside from being a wonderful example of modern farce also brings with it a legion of devoted fans, who will no doubt spur on box office sales.

It is not, however, an evening without problems. The exposition scenes leading up to the arrival of the great operatic tenor, Tito Merelli, seem to drag rather than build anticipation, and Matthew Kelly, cast as Henry Saunders, hits the opening at a manic level, leaving nowhere for his character to go.

Upon Merelli’s arrival at the Cleveland Hotel the fun really begins with the hilarious, tongue-in-cheek ensemble For The Love Of Opera, exquisitely paced, choreographed and dressed by a creative team working as one.

Fears that Joanna Riding might be somewhat under-used are quite groundless. Riding has already proved herself an accomplished actress elsewhere, and here simply adds to her repertoire as a comedy-character actress playing the terse Maria Merelli.

Some of the more sublime musical highlights include the glorious tenor duet Be Yourself, in which Michael Matus as Merelli coaches the insecure Max to leading man status, a role Damian Humbley steps into with aplomb. While there is much door-slamming and mistaken identity in Act Two, there’s still plenty of room for Sophie-Louise Dann’s May I Have A Moment? – an opera audition par excellence – to bring the house down.

Lend Me A Tenor’s thirties pastiche might appear a little too stodgy for modern audiences, but this is by far and away the most accomplished musical comedy opening in the West End this season.