Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the gala night of Wyong Drama Group’s end of year play. Sadly, this is likely to be the last theatrical production staged in the Grove Theatre following the recent sale of the Wyong Cultural Community Hub in North Street. In the director’s note in the program, club president Howard Oxley expresses his disappointment at the uncertainty the group faces: “once again the future is cloudy and we have to virtually start again in our search for a home,” he says. But WDG are laughing in the face of adversity and ending their 2015 season with a hilarious farce: Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig.
Ludwig is an American playwright and theatrical director best known for musicals The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, An American in Paris and Crazy For You (which has been performed by Gosford Musical Society in recent years). In this play he has turned his talents to straight theatre but with a musical theme: the plot commences with Henry Saunders, manager of the Grand Opera Company, in a state of anxiety over the lateness of the much admired opera singer, Tito Merelli, who has been invited to perform Verdi’s Otello in a one-off performance for the company’s “Grand Opening”. Henry’s daughter, Maggie, is hoping to spend some time with her idol before the performance while young opera hopeful, Max, is hoping to spend more time with Maggie. When the celebrity guest finally arrives, he is suffering from travel sickness and the effects of a cocktail of alcohol and tranquilisers. When, to top it all, an explosive fall out with his temperamental wife threatens to render Tito completely unable to perform, Henry casts around for a scapegoat. Hoping to win the heart of the fair Maggie and the favour of his would be father-in-law, Max is persuaded to attempt a daring and outrageous hoax.
Lend Me a Tenor was first performed in London’s West End in 1986 and then on Broadway in 1989, and enjoyed a Broadway revival in 2010. It has received nine Tony Award nominations and won three.* Devotees of farce will enjoy all the usual ingredients of mistaken identity, convoluted situations, embarrassment, slapstick and confusion with an abundance of doors. And although I’m, admittedly, not a great fan of the genre, I couldn’t help chortling and guffawing my way through the play as it delivered a steady stream of cheeky humour and entertaining one liners. It was helped by the talents of an excellent ensemble cast, every one of whom put in first rate performances, clearly enjoying themselves immensely and milking the full comic potential out of every situation and line. The huge pool of talent and experience WDG has to draw on never ceases to amaze me. Even the youngest members of the cast, Madeline Parker and Declan Green, have years of theatrical experience and are adorable as would-be/might-be couple, Maggie and Max. Tito is played by Gosford Musical Society and Wyong Musical Theatre Company veteran, John Gerrie, and the rest of the cast (Marc Calwell, Sally Bartley, Denise Pastor, Cathy De Vries and Margaret Holdom) are as familiar to fans of the Coast’s musical companies as they are to WDG regulars.
Howard is to be congratulated on his direction, skilfully choreographing his cast through all of the play’s comic business, and on a set design that served the purpose admirably. Kudos to all involved for a thoroughly enjoyable show in the tradition of the group’s memorable successes with the Fawlty Towers productions.
Lend Me a Tenor closes this weekend but there are still seats available for the final performances at the Grove Theatre if you book quickly, via the website www.wyongdramagroup.com.au or call 1300 665 600.