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Theatre / Lend Me a Tenor

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Lend Me a Tenor is a farce by Ken Ludwig, originally produced on both the West End in 1986 and Broadway in 1989.

In 1934, the renowned tenor Tito "Il Stupendo" Merelli is scheduled to sing the lead in Otello at a gala fundraiser for the Cleveland Opera Company. Unfortunately, even before the star leaves his hotel room, everything begins to unravel. Chaos ensues when Maria, Merelli's wife, having mistaken Maggie Saunders, an autograph-seeker hidden in his closet, for a secret lover, leaves him a "Dear John" letter. The distraught Merelli is accidentally given a double dose of tranquilizers to calm him and passes out. Henry Saunders, the company's General Manager, is determined that the show will go on (for his own financial sake), so he asks his assistant Max to impersonate the opera star. Max puts on the makeup required for the role of Othello (or Pagliacci depending on the production), and his disguise succeeds admirably...until Merelli, also in makeup, wakes up and heads for the theatre. Rounding out the cast is Julia Leverett, the Chairwoman of the Opera Guild; Diana, a soprano willing to do anything to make it big; and an opera-singing bellhop. What follows is a chain reaction of mistaken identity, farcical plot twists, double entendres, innuendoes, and constant entrances and plenty of doors slamming.

In 2011, a musical adaptation had a brief West End run.

In 2022, Ludwig debuted Lend Me a Soprano, a Gender Flip version featuring the tempestuous soprano Elena Firenzi engaged to sing the lead in Carmen.

Tropes features include:

  • All Women Are Lustful: All four female characters in fact:
    • Maggie Saunders wants to have a fling before settling down.
    • Maria Merelli is quite annoyed that she hasn’t gotten any from her husband.
    Maria: Three weeks—nothing! Not once, eh?!
    • Diana Really Gets Around.
    • Julia Leverett offers herself, twice, to Tito in order to thank him.
  • At the Opera Tonight: We never actually see the opera, but we see people dressed up for the opera before and after.
  • Blackface: The actor playing Othello, be it Max or Tito, wears it. Played for comedy, as part of the Mistaken Identity. Some productions replace Othello with Pagliacci and use thick clown makeup instead.
  • Casting Couch: Diana will do anything to be famous.
  • "Dear John" Letter: Maria leaves one for Tito. Afterwards, it is found by Max and Saunders and thought to be a suicide note.
  • Death Glare: Maria Merelli must have a spectacular one.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Blackface was very common at the time, and used by every actor playing Othello professionally at the time, since the role was still only given to white men. None of the characters comment on it at all, but for the audience, it pushes many events into pure Refuge in Audacity territory. (And the plot relies on it, so there's no way to cut it.) Modern productions change the play to Pagliacci and clown makeup instead.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Julia has shades of this.
  • The Ditz: Maggie has her moments.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Max to Maggie Saunders.
  • Dramatic Irony: The second half of the show follows Tito as he's trying to figure out what happened while he was drugged. The audience has full understanding, leading to hilarious misunderstandings and mistaken identity.
  • Everyone Calls Him Bellhop: Even in the stage direction, the Bellhop is referred to as such but, if you listen carefully, you can hear him introduce himself as Frank to Max dressed as Tito.
  • Farce
  • Foreshadowing: A ton. From act one:
    • While waiting for the incredibly late Tito, Max suggests to Saunders that he could take Tito’s place if he doesn’t show up. Guess who steps in when Il Stupendo cannot perform?
    • There is also this conversation between Max and Saunders:
    Saunders: You will drive [Tito] to the rehearsal and then drive him back. You will give him whatever he wants except-
    Max: Liquor and women.
    Saunders: At the performance, you will lead a spontaneous-
    Max: Standing ovation-
    Saunders: Then return him to the reception, keeping him-
    Max: Sober-
    Saunders: With his hands-
    Max: To himself-
    Saunders: At which point he can-
    Max: Drop dead-
    Saunders: For all we care. Good.
    • Tito makes a comment to his wife that “his girl in the closet” isn’t going to care if he’s ill. Maria finds Maggie in the closet a little later (Tito had no idea she was in there).
    • Tito makes a sarcastic comment to his wife about having two naked women waiting for in the bedroom of the suite. In act two, there are two lingerie-clad women in the suite (separate rooms) trying to seduce him.
    • Tito makes a point of having two version of all his costumes, props, and makeup in case one fails. Both wind up getting used.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Takes place in the 30's in Cleveland, but everyone's well off, there's no allusion to the Great Depression, and sets often incorporate a lot of Art Deco.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Tito and Maria Merelli.
  • Grew a Spine: Max gains a lot of self-confidence over the course of the story.
  • High-Class Gloves: Expect someone to be wearing these.
  • Honorary Aunt: Julia to Maggie.
  • Hot-Blooded: Absolutely everyone.
  • Irony as She Is Cast: In-universe; Diana plays Desdemona.
  • Latin Lover: The Italian Tito Merelli.
  • Malaproper: Julia.
    Julia: There are times, I’m afraid, when one simply has to apply the iron glove to the velvet hand. Especially if one hopes to get the bird.
  • Married to the Job: Tito has been neglecting his wife Maria as the two travel from show to show and continent to continent. By the end he's been through such hell that he cancels his tour just wants to go home with her.
  • Mean Boss: Henry Saunders to Max, more as an insecure bully than anything. Max turns it around on him at the end when Saunders owes him.
  • Mentor Archetype: Tito and Max bond while waiting in the hotel room by Tito giving Max a free singing (and self confidence) lesson.
  • Mistaken Death Confirmation: Max and Saunders try to wake up Tito but assume he is dead when they can't feel his pulse, unaware he was under heavy tranquilizers that slowed his heartbeat.
  • Mistaken For An Impostor: Max arrives at the opera house disguised as Tito to give a performance. When the real Tito shows up later (in full costume) he gets labeled a lunatic and chased by the police.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Tito gets this a lot. She was already planning on leaving him, but when Maria finds Maggie (hoping to get an autograph) in the hotel closet she assumes Maggie is Tito’s lover. Though, this seems it wouldn’t be a stretch. Later, Diana has just hooked up with Tito, and Maggie has done the same with Max dressed as Tito. Afterward, while the women are out of the rooms, Tito finds Max dressed as him and leaves, leaving disguised Max to be found by both Maggie and Diana, who both think that “Tito” is two-timing them. Then, Maria returns.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: Poor Diana; but in this case it’s not because of what she’s wearing but because of her asking Tito if she “was good” (on stage) and saying she “is a professional” (singer). It’s reasonably justified because, she thought she had already met him and he has no idea who this woman is.
  • Mistaken Identity: Max, under heavy makeup and costume, poses as Tito. Exactly how believable this is depends on the actors, though some productions make the fact that they really don't look anything alike part of the joke. The play is set during the 1930s, so it's fairly plausible that the audience wouldn't be able to tell, between the makeup, being far away from the stage, and that they probably only would've ever seen Tito in a couple photographs. Maggie, on the other hand... Diana also has significantly less excuse, at least in productions where Tito and Max are vastly different heights and weights. While she has never met Tito before opening night, and thus probably wouldn't be able to tell she was singing with Max, you'd think she'd notice that it's not the same guy when she goes to see him in his hotel room later.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Tito is a cheater and rather stubborn, but he's ultimately a very nice guy.
  • Newhart Phonecall: Happens a few times with the phone in the hotel room, mainly from people at the theater wondering where Tito is.
  • Not Quite Dead: Tito. The triple dose of phenobarbital mixed with the alcohol made his heartbeat drop so much that Max and Saunders thought he was dead.
  • Really Gets Around: Diana has this reputation, as does Tito.
  • Rejected Marriage Proposal: Max proposed to Maggie briefly before the story begins. She says she said no, he says she said she'd think about it. It's not so much that she doesn't love him and more that she feels like she hasn't experienced enough to be ready to settle down.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The Merelli's relationship is like this. Constant fighting, constant cheating... and yet when she seemingly leaves him for good, he instantly becomes deeply depressed, and she returns a few hours later.
  • Spurned into Suicide: Max and Saunders think this happened to Tito after his wife walked out on him. It doesn’t help that they thought the Dear John she left him was a suicide note.
  • Tempting Fate: When Saunders assures Max that "nothing can go wrong," after Max successfully impersonates Tito at the opera, you know that everything is about to get straight to hell.
  • Tsundere: Maria Merelli.
  • Questionable Consent: Maggie sleeps with Max... thinking he's Tito. He does nothing to correct this assumption. When she finds out, she doesn't seem to consider it a violation, but Max did lie about his identity to get her to have sex with him, knowing full well she wouldn't have had she known who he was. Of course, given how impressed she was with Max's performance, it's likely that Maggie actually would've slept with him if she knew it was him, and not Tito.