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Theatre / Lend Me a Tenor

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Lend Me a Tenor is a farce by Ken Ludwig. The play was produced on both the West End (1986) and Broadway (1989). Although it received seven Tony Award nominations, it won only one, for Best Actor.

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, who has mistaken Maggie Saunders, an autograph-seeker hidden in his closet, for a secret lover, leaves him a "Dear John" letter. The distraught Merelli accidentally is 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 blackface makeup required for the role of Othello, and his disguise succeeds admirably – until Merelli, also in blackface, wakes up and heads for the stage. 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 exits through many doors.


Tropes features include:

  • All Women Are Lustful: In this play, yes. 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: Played for comedy, as part of the Mistaken Identity.
  • 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.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Julia has shades of this.
  • The Ditz: Maggie has her moments.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Max to Maggie Saunders.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Gratuitous Italian: Tito and Maria Merelli.
  • Grew a Spine: Max.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, seeing the Your Cheating Heart entry below, 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
  • 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.”
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Tito is a cheater and rather stubborn, but he's ultimately a very nice guy.
  • Not Quite Dead: Tito. The double 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.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The Merelli's relationship is like this.
  • 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.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Oh, where do we begin? For starters, the Italian Tito’s love for women is infamous enough to be known about by the Opera Company in Cleveland (and this is the 30’s). Much later in the play, a still technically married Tito sleeps with Diana.
    • We also have Maggie, who’s in sort of a relationship with Max, trying to seduce Tito, who thinks she wants an autograph, because she hadn’t “had any flings”, though she is hesitant at first since he does have a wife. She is interrupted but resumes her seduction but this time it’s not Tito, it’s Max dressed as Tito who tells her that Maria’s not really ''his'' wife.


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