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'Lend Me a Tenor': Paul Bunyan Playhouse comedy revolves around operatic farce

Actors Karen Wiese-Thompson and Lee H. Adams rehearse a scene from the third play of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse summer season "Lend Me A Tenor," which opens tonight through July 16. Pioneer Photo /Monte Draper

"Lend Me A Tenor," a comedy by Ken Ludwig, will open tonight at 8 p.m. in the historic Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji.

The third production in the Paul Bunyan Playhouse 61st summer season, this merry production of a classic farce is certain to provide an evening of laughter after a day spent on the lake, in the office or at home.

"Lend Me A Tenor" first opened on Broadway in 1989, receiving seven Tony nominations during its run. It proved to be an enormously popular play, both here and abroad. It recently enjoyed a successful revival on Broadway, and under Artistic Director Zach Curtis' direction for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, it does not take the audience long to understand why this zany story is a favorite for theater-goers everywhere.

Set in 1934, the play opens with aspiring tenor and Cleveland Grand Opera House assistant manager Max, played by Ryan Parker Knox, frantically trying to locate the missing operatic maestro Tito Morelli. Morelli, an appealing Italian as done by Paul Bunyan Playhouse newcomer Lee H. Adams. Morelli is the greatest tenor of his day. Also known as Il Stupendo, he is currently blazing his way across America and the hearts of her swooning young women in a tour, which includes a scheduled stop in Cleveland. He is to perform in the Grand Opera House while under the watchful eyes of his justifiably suspicious wife Maria, portrayed here by Karen Wiese-Thompson. However, although he is due to appear onstage as Verdi's "Otello" at the Opera House in just a few short hours, both Morellis are missing.

Sharing in Max's stress as he searches for Il Stupendo is the impressionable and sweet Maggie, played by Katherine Tieben. Maggie is a young woman looking for romantic adventure and, even more specifically, an adventure with Morelli. Having met him once before, she has been entertaining dreams of his attentions ever since and is hopeful his appearance will lead, for her, to much more than singing. Even though the meek and mild Max has declared his love for her, she wants no one but Tito. However, Maggie is also under watchful eyes, these belonging to her father and the manager of the Opera House, Saunders. Portrayed by Ari Hoptman, Saunders is a man clearly conflicted by his professional and personal responsibilities. His loyalty to the culture-starved Midwesterners, represented here by the Opera House board member Julia played by Leslie Ball, who is also scheming to make "contact" with Morelli, and to his celebrity-smitten, love-struck daughter.

Max's issues are compounded by the ailing Italian tenor's late arrival and subsequent "death," his jealous wife, a sexy soprano named Diana, played by Sigrid Sutter, also with plans of her own for Il Stupendo. Perhaps the most desperate of them all is Matthew Goinz as an opera-crazed bellhop. Mad to perform for Morelli he creates mayhem with the characters as they run wild across the furniture and stage. The frantic and funny ending will leave attendees no doubt that they have just enjoyed another wacky and laugh-filled evening at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse.

Underwritten by Arrow Printing, Forest Edge Winery and Ken K Thompson Jewelry, tickets are available by calling the box office at 751-7270 or going online at Tickets for the 8 p.m. performances are $22 for adults, $15 for students and $20 for groups of 10 or more. The 2 p.m. Sunday matinee tickets are $15. "Lend Me A Tenor" will be followed by Kevin Kling's "21A" July 20-30 and the musical finale "The Full Monty" Aug. 3-13.

This activity is funded in whole or in part by a Region 2 Arts Council grant through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund passed by Minnesota voters on November 4, 2008.