On a long enough timeline, every theater in the country will stage Ken Ludwig's
Lend Me a Tenor
. Like Michael Frayn's
, Ludwig's farce fills the stalls with patrons wanting a laugh and willing to pay for it. But the perfect casting at Ambler's Act II Playhouse elevates its current production far above the level of late-season filler aimed at middle America.
Ludwig's comedy, about the mishaps surrounding a big-name Italian tenor guest-starring in a performance of Otello in Cleveland, doesn't require stellar voices for the evening's sole musical number. So it might seem a waste for the cast to feature Jeff Coon, one of Philly's most prominent musical-theater talents, as Tito Merelli, "Il Stupendo" - even though he and Michael Doherty (as Max, the backstage gofer with an underappreciated vocal talent) thrill with their delivery of the Verdi aria.
It's in the comedy, however, that Doherty and Coon, along with Tony Braithwaite (plus the adorable Eileen Cella as Maggie), create the comedic center of this production. Doherty ambles with exaggerated expressions and gestures, Braithwaite sublimates his signature shtick into a manic, fiery performance as the beleaguered producer Saunders, and Coon lumbers across the stage, punctuating his pepperoni pronunciations with wild mannerisms.
For two hours, this trio trips and clowns across Dirk Durosette's fabulous Art Deco hotel suite, transforming the lighthearted jokes, Italianate innuendo, and backstage banter into a fantastical farce that delights in its own sense of abandon.
As Bud Martin's surefire direction snaps from one improbable situation to the next, the cast's quick timing convinces that all coincidence, mistaken identity, and found affection not only could actually happen, but would.
The special joy in Act II's production lies in this mix of comedy and earnestness, and its juxtaposition of skill from Braithwaite, a local comedic star in his prime, and Doherty, a recent UArts grad who's full of promise.
You can see Lend Me a Tenor anywhere, but it won't be like this one. Philadelphia theater fans can only hope to see these three talents team up again.
Through June 8 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. Ambler. Tickets: $27-$33. 215-654-0200 or act2.org