Curtains: Lend Me a Tenor at Hale Centre Theatre

Don Crosby and Eric Thompson are pretty darn sweet in Lend Me a Tenor.

I thought I'd seen Lend Me a Tenor several years ago, but as the plot unfolded at Gilbert's Hale Centre Theatre I realized what I'd seen back then was Moon Over Buffalo. Both are Ken Ludwig farces about touring entertainers, so perhaps my confusion is understandable.

Each script presents challenges, but if I were casting or auditioning for Tenor, I'd be especially intimidated by the characters Max and Tito. The actors in those roles have to, for several moments at a time, sing as well as opera singers (one an international star, the other a gifted but initially self-conscious amateur). 

In Hale's production, Eric Thompson (as Max) and Don Crosby (as Tito) hit all the right notes, both literally and figuratively. Maybe they would make diehard opera fans cringe (I'm not enough of an aficionado to tell), but the Valley's blessed with few of those, as far as I can tell. Thompson and Crosby have warm, lovely voices, and, most important, they seem comfortable singing and they act their pants off (yes, both literally and figuratively). 

This cast demonstrates what happens when a director (in this case, Mesa Community College's Lori Towne) takes a group of actors firmly in hand, nurtures the unique contributions of each one, and gets them all moving toward the same goal: a rollercoaster of fun for everybody in the building.

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Lend Me a Tenor has a few poignant things to say about self-esteem and relationships (though it takes place before those were buzzwords), but for the most part, it's a solid, constantly accelerating snowball of a comedy. It's rare and delightful to see a community theater mount a popular warhorse like this play and take nothing for granted, pulling out all the stops as though they were producing it for the first time ever, especially for us.

One distinguishing feature of the Hale family of theaters (there are houses in California and Utah as well) is the "center theater" design -- what most people call "in the round." The front rows have the action almost in their laps, The stage is roomy, and the designers keep furniture and set pieces low so that everyone can see everything. The theater seats about 350 in four raked sections -- nice, permanent, comfy seats.

David Dietlein's set is quietly impressive -- I especially liked the matching yummy Art Deco door surrounds at every entrance. (And the doors all work, which is critical to a successful farce.) Rebecca Wilcox did a swell job of costuming each of the eight characters with little touches that highlight individual status, personality, and dramatic function. While we're on costumes, additional kudos to actor Crosby, who seamlessly and amusingly integrated a drooping panel of his slashed breeches (think Spanish conquistador) into the action the evening I was there.

And kudos also to Hale's audience, a good-natured bunch of families and young and older folks all coming together as a community to share an experience. (This does not always happen when one goes to the theater.)

Lend Me a Tenor runs through February 14 at Hale Centre Theatre. 50 West Page Avenue in downtown Gilbert. Tickets are $17 to $19; purchase here or call 480-497-1181.

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