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Hilarious characters bring funny to Fall Church’s ‘Tenor’

Megan Fraedrich, a student at West Springfield High School, reviews Falls Church High School’s “Lend Me a Tenor” as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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Sam Johnson, Erin Maines and Ayinde Bray from Falls Church High School. (Photo courtesy of Falls Church HS)

Within thirty minutes of opera great Tito Merelli’s arrival in Cleveland, dead men are walking and singing opera. Scantily dressed women are lurking behind every door. And twin Othellos are rampaging through the city, wearing Afro wigs and assaulting police officers.

Ken Ludwig’s 1989 play “Lend Me a Tenor,” a farcical comedy filled with slamming doors, innuendo, mistaken identities and Italian accents thick enough to cut with a knife, propelled Ludwig as a successful playwright. Falls Church High School embraced and successfully produced the controversial comedy, which included a character donning a blackface.

Ian Mills gave an affable performance as shy guy Max, an “all-purpose dogsbody” and amateur opera singer. He used timing to make Max equally human and comedic. He skillfully and convincingly portrayed his character’s affection for flighty Maggie Saunders (Liz Mogrovejo). Mogrovejo captured Maggie’s romantic spirit and youthful mischievousness throughout the play. As Maggie’s comically irritable, foul-mouthed father played by Sam Johnson, the student actor let loose with a blunt, gravelly voice and forceful gestures, most notably in his back-and-forth patter with Max.

With blustering flamboyance, Alex Rock was every inch the larger-than-life Italian singer Tito Merelli. Whether coaching Max in opera, falling into a medicated stupor, attempting to stab himself with a wineglass or mistaking an opera star for a call girl, Rock delivered. He and his wife (Erin Maines) bickered and gesticulated with zest. Maines embodied the character’s long-suffering haughtiness in her brief time on stage. Maddie Jennings held her own by playing an opera diva turned seductress, even when wearing nothing else but a towel. Another memorable character was eccentric, old bat Julia, played with unrestrained giddiness by Betsy Ryan.

Among the standout supporting characters were the opera-loving bellhop (Ayinde Bray), who induced gales of laughter from the audience whenever he opened his mouth, and, sometimes, even when he didn’t. His sharp character choices and well-timed reactions took the zany comedy to a new level.

Alex Doak and Robert Peterson’s set served as a fully functional hotel suite complete with two large rooms, a closet, a bathroom and swinging doors. Props and effects by Bill Miller contributed significantly to the story and the comedy, as did well-executed sound effects by Cortland Jacoby. Tierra Moreland’s makeup served various characters well particularly in making them look realistically and substantially older than their high school ages.

Though enunciation and diction sometimes suffered, each actor projected their voice skillfully even in the absence of microphones. Some characterizations seemed forced or unsure, but the comedic energy remained intact. And despite occasional uneven pacing, there was never a dull moment.

Rich with suspense and humor, Fall Church’s “Lend Me a Tenor” inspired the kind of belly laughs that could have cured even Tito Merelli’s ailing stomach.

By Megan Fraedrich, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  December 24, 2009; 12:29 PM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2009  
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