Those who hate opera will be relieved to learn Lend Me a Tenor isn’t an opera.
Those who love opera will be relieved to learn that even so, they’ll find plenty to laugh about in this play. Lend Me a Tenor will be presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design School of Performing Arts Oct. 18, 19, 20 and 21.
The year is 1934. The renowned tenor Tito Merelli, known to his fans as “Il Stupendo,” is scheduled to sing the lead in Otello for the Cleveland Opera Company. Since it’s a major fundraiser for the company, this is a Big Deal.
But even before Tito leaves his hotel room, everything begins to go wrong. A “Dear John” letter left by Tito’s wife is mistakenly believed to be a suicide note. Tito is so distraught, he becomes too ill to sing.
Max, the general manager’s assistant, has been placed in charge of the tenor. He accidentally gives Tito a dose of tranquilizers -- and so does Tito’s wife.
Not surprisingly, Tito passes out and is mistaken as dead. So the general manager decides Max, who is himself a wannabe opera singer, must don a wig and costume and take over the role.
To say any more would spill the beans, but just take it from me that everything turns out all right, but there are lots of funny twists and turns along the way. Lend Me a Tenor opened in London’s West End theater district in 1986, and in 1989, opened on Broadway, where it ran for 476 performances.
SCAD theater professor Michael Wainstein is directing the production. “It’s a very quintessential farce,” he says. “It comes from the British tradition of sex farce, but it isn’t a sex farce.”
While a farce, Lend Me a Tenor is extremely clever, Wainstein says. “The Cleveland Grand Opera has hired this tenor to open the season as a fundraiser,” Wainstein says. “He has a crazy wife.
“The assistant wants to be an opera star, and he is entrusted with taking care of the tenor. Tito has an upset stomach, and Max wants to get him to sleep so he can perform.”
That’s when the accidental overdose -- both of them -- comes into play. “Max is convinced he should go on,” Wainstein says. “He thinks no one will know the difference. But a twist in the second act causes a complication.”
There are eight SCAD theater students in the cast. “This is a real challenge for student actors,” Wainstein says. “Farce requires a very heightened style that is difficult to do.”
The only music in the show is an aria that is performed by Max. “It is a short little thing,” Wainstein says.
But music isn’t the point -- comedy is. “It has to do with big personalities,” Wainstein says. “It’s a 30s screwball comedy.”
By the time the show opens, the cast will have rehearsed for five weeks. Wainstein says his cast is perfect for the roles.
“Our whole department auditioned, so 120 auditioned,” he says. “These are the best for the roles, but it was hard to pick.”
The biggest challenge has been teaching the students how to understand and perform farce, Wainstein says. “This is a really, really funny, entertaining play,” he says. “It isn’t the typical sleazy, easy farce, it’s really, really clever.
“This was a very successful Broadway show,” Wainstein says. “This is the third time in my career I’ve directed it, and every time I do it, it’s always a big success.”
Lend Me a Tenor will be presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design School of Performing Arts on Oct. 18, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. at the Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $5 for students and seniors and free with a valid SCAD ID. Purchase tickets online at www.scadboxoffice.com, by phone at 525-5050 or at the SCAD box office, 216 E. Broughton St.