Review of Lend Me A Tenor at the Gielgud Theatre
Ever since Al, Fred and George had the lucky posthumous collaboration which turned Pygmalion into My Fair Lady, producers have salivated over the lucrative idea that grafting a few songs onto a popular stage comedy could make an audience see the play twice, this time with music.
It worked for Shaw and Lerner and Loewe possibly because both the source material and the music and lyrics are equally clever and at the time, original. But suppose you woke up one morning and considered that a pretty average mid-80’s mistaken-identity door-slamming farce could be well-revived with the addition of fifteen songs by completely unknown composers (if you Google ‘Peter Sham’ it only brings up the dressmakers’ ribbon).
You might be lucky and snag a highly competent musical theatre star just out of a major flop. Cherbourg escapee Joanna Riding plays the disenchanted wife of a touring Italian tenor who misses his gala by taking sleeping pills and is impersonated by a waiter – are you laughing yet? - but with a wig by Ukrainian Premier Yulia Tymoshenko and accent by Joe Dolce, even she doesn’t stand much of a chance in her two brief scenes.
You might throw sets, costumes and gilt at it like Linda Barker loosed on Chatsworth but the resultant surfeit of mauve and hefty mobile set looks recycled from a provincial pantomime – those juddering chandeliers must have done a Cinderella or ten – and betrays the production’s origins in the Theatre Royal Plymouth where, for many London critics, it should have stayed.
You could, if you were heavily nostalgic for ITV’s Stars in their Eyes engage its mugging presenter Matthew Kelly as the embattled impresario at the centre of the farce and subject the audience to his camp and manic breathlessness in lieu of characterization or musicality. Does he prepare backstage by telling the mirror ‘Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be dreadful’ ?
You’d be the producers of Lend Me A Tenor, which isn’t really salvaged by the fine voice of Michael Matus (another flop escapee from Martin Guerre) as Tito Merelli, or the second-act setpiece by Sophie Louise Dann as a scenery-chewing diva compacting all the great arias into one seduction audition and which may well be lost on the coach parties unless they’re assiduous followers of Soapstar to Operastar.
Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph dismissed it as ‘barely memorable ... all the sophistication of four-minute pasta’. I’d go further: in a month when London productions swept the board at the Tonys, with exemplars of excellence in straight plays and musicals it’s a disgrace to smear Shaftesbury Avenue with this great big pile of steaming stale Dolmio.
This review written for Londonist
Thanks to everyone who joined Erin Kelly, Melanie McGrath and me at Mansfield Central Library on Saturday 25 February. We had a panel discussion and Q&A, ...