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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Comedy

‘Lend Me a Soprano’ featured passion, clever comedic relief


The set design for the play by Klara Zieglerova tied well with the actor’s movements. | Malachi Key/The Cougar

Tony-award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig’s newest play, “Lend Me a Soprano” left audiences in stitches Sunday afternoon as it closed its second weekend running at the Alley Theater. 

Making its worldwide debut in Houston, the play provides a gender-swapped retelling of Ludwig’s original 1986 comedy “Lend Me a Tenor.”

Much like the original play, “Lend Me a Soprano” is a madcap mistaken-identity comedy revolving around the chaos that ensues when a glamorous Italian opera star, Alexandra Silber, dies shortly before opening night, leaving the opera staff scrambling for a replacement. 

Without going into too many spoilers, the show features a lot of frantic running around made possible by Klara Zieglerova’s fantastic set design. Around half of the stage was devoted to a bedroom space, with the other half featuring a luxurious hotel living room. 

Both sides are divided by a door and an “invisible wall,” which cleverly allows for the majority of the audience to view the action regardless of their seating placement. This setup also creates a potential for several gags involving actors on either side of the “wall” mirroring each other.

The back and stage right walls are practically covered with doors, which almost seemed likely to fall off their hinges at points with how often they were slammed during the show’s numerous chases, scrambling and passionate fits of fury. 

Speaking of passion, the entire cast did a bang-up job at bringing Ludwig’s usual lightning pace to life. While the show started out somewhat slow, the entire experience was much like a runaway train, once it got up to speed, there was no stopping it.

What began with the audience giving light chuckles as Jo, played by Mia Pinero, and Jerry, played by Brandon Hearnsberger, engaged in an all too familiar relational dispute, leaving the crowd on their feet howling and gasping as each joke and plot twist hit like a punch in the gut.

While the entire cast put on a spectacularly hilarious performance (special note to Steven Good’s ludicrous accent that my partner and I simply could not stop imitating after the show), the highlight for me had to be Ellen Harvey’s fantastic work as Mrs. Wylie.

For every performance, there is a certain degree to which you see the person onstage as an actor, but not so for Ellen Harvey. At points, you almost feel as if something has gone horribly wrong and the actor has become no more. 

Her fiery passion and thick Southern accent translate beautifully to the role of the troubled opera manager scrambling to keep it together. The standout for me was her angrily berating a corpse punctuated by occasional pillow smacks (no I will not give context). 

The transformation of the lead opera singer into a femme fatale certainly plays somewhat better with modern audiences, as the multiple points where the male singer seduces characters under the guise of his star power in the original have not aged perfectly. 

Alexandra Silber does a fantastic job at bringing the role of Elena Firenzi into the modern era and the gender differential adds a touch of a feminine coming-of-age story as Jo finds her confidence. 

I was somewhat surprised to find that the ending stayed relatively the same, as I thought the show could have used a rewrite where Jo is frustrated enough with her husband’s behavior to soundly reject him, but the original ending will likely remain satisfying to most audiences.

In conclusion, “Lend Me a Soprano” does not stray too far off the path set by the original, but has enough to offer audiences in terms of sharp writing, design and passion-filled acting to be an uproariously good time for anyone in need of some good laughs.

Overall, the show did an excellent job at matching the energy that made “Lend me a Tenor” such a hit and one could argue it even elevates the original at points.

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