Mamma mia. Encore, encore. Bravo.
Don't take my word for it. Ask anybody who was at Thursday night's preview of "Lend Me a Tenor."
It is the funniest show the Omaha Community Playhouse has staged since I don't know when.
Ken Ludwig's 1980s farce, which Carl Beck directed at the Playhouse 20 years ago, is back with a vengeance, and it has lost none of its comedic potency.
Maybe that's because Beck, a master of farce, is directing again, stuffing this goose with hilarious little bits of business everywhere you turn. The staging and the timing are sublime.
Or maybe it's because it's so darned well written, with a veneer of plausibility that makes it that much funnier and a bottomless well of double entendres.
It could also be the all-star cast, which, I swear, Beck has chosen so well you can argue later about who was the best, but you have to agree they were all terrific.
And as if all that weren't enough, Steve Wheeldon's set — a fancy 1930s hotel suite done up in pastel and white art deco with touches of black — is a pleasure to drink in. It features a quarter-circle wall of windows and great detailing that extends to backing flats behind all those doors.
In "Lend Me a Tenor," world-renowned Italian tenor Tito Merelli (Joseph Dignoti) is the headliner for the Cleveland Grand Opera's production of "Otello." But there are one or two small problems.
To begin with, he's late, which puts the company's high-strung general manager, Saunders (Dennis Collins), in a state of high anxiety.
The offer of Saunders' slightly nerdy assistant, wannabe singer Max (Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek), to stand in for Tito doesn't help.
When he does arrive, Tito is in a state of acute indigestion. His super-jealous wife, Maria (Laura Leininger), is in a state of angry frustration.
Saunders' daughter, Maggie (Jodi Vaccaro), Max's sweetheart, is determined to have a fling with Tito, as is a soprano in the cast (Cathy Hirsch) and the matronly chairwoman of the opera guild (Stacie Lamb).
The bellhop (Noah Diaz), a besotted fan, wants to hang around the great man every chance he can get.
In farce, this is what's known as the great setup. Lots of trains on different tracks are set in motion, and the audience gets to wait for them all to collide. With this sterling production, those trains just keep piling up, triggering wave after wave of laughter.
I don't remember the last time I saw a wordless sight gag so well set up and executed, it triggered a huge laugh and then an extended round of applause. It nearly stopped the show.
There are a half-dozen potential moments like that involving mistaken identities, gross misunderstandings and pieces of information the audience is privy to that the characters are not — like Tito's overdose of tranquilizers or who's currently hiding in the closet.
Leininger is a particular standout as high-spirited Maria, with a thick Italian accent that somehow makes her even more formidable. Collins also deserves singling out for his constant state of advanced apoplexy and for his way of turning a nothing line into a great big laugh.
But nobody beats Clark-Kaczmarek, a wonder at physical comedy, and Dignoti, who can say more with his big, round eyes than many actors can say with a monologue. Watching them work together is just plain fun. Even their attempts at opera drew applause (the show's dirty secret is that neither is a tenor).
And somehow I've gotten this far without mentioning Georgiann Regan's upscale costumes, which add so much to the goings-on, and John Gibilisco's sound design, heavy on opera scoring.
Hats off to Beck, cast and crew. This one will sell itself, and is sure to be remembered through award season and beyond.
Contact the writer: