The Herald UK: Fast farce Hits Every Hilarious High Note

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by Bill Stone
September 30, 2010

WHAT a show! It’s got the lot. Well, nearly everything — there’s no line-up of leggy chorines. But you can’t have it all.

What you do get is an absorbing plot (admittedly closely related to typical end-of-the-pier farces), compelling characters, some witty lines, lots of laughs, and some very listen-to-able new songs with a score that hints at the Thirties and operetta, plus a couple of bleeding chunks from Verdi’s Otello. Dress it all up with amazingly mobile and opulent sets, and bring it to vibrant life by a first-class cast.

If popular appeal and a jolly good time are the aims, this has surefire hit written all over it.

As with all comedies of this nature, the story starts off from a realistic base and only at a moderately heightened pace. But it builds inexorably, to a frantically hilarious second act in which three actors simultaneously play the same character, each involved with predatory women. And do those hotel doors take some punishment!

It’s set back in 1934, in Cleveland, Ohio. The town boasts an opera house but it’s in dire financial straits. Manager Henry Saunders (Matthew Kelly) faces bankruptcy.

But there’s good news, and bad. Cash salvation seems assured when they attract Tito Merelli (Michael Matus), the world’s greatest tenor of his day, to sing Verdi’s Otello, which means a packed house with grossly inflated prices. But he is suddenly incapacitated, may even be dead, and disaster again looms.

And that’s where the farcical elements really run riot, as Henry’s assistant Max (Damian Humbley) is forced to impersonate Merelli. Complicate matters with Max’s wavering fiancee Maggie (Kelly Chinery), scheming soprano Diana (Sophie-Louise Dann), jealous wife Maria (Sally Ann Triplett), and the Cleveland Police Department, not to mention food poisoning by some suspect shrimps, and you have all the ingredients for slick comic chaos.

Two sequences especially are show-stoppers — the duet between Max and Merelli in act one, and Diana’s pot pourri of snatches from operatic heroines’ arias in act two.

The standing ovation was a foregone conclusion. Joy all the way.

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