'Lend Me a Tenor' review: Old is new at Bay Street

From left, Noah Polmgren, Steve Rosen and Roland

From left, Noah Polmgren, Steve Rosen and Roland Rusinek star in "Lend Me a Tenor" at Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor, through June 23, 2013. (Credit: Jerry Lamonica)

After 20 years of presenting challenging new works and offbeat classics, Bay Street Theatre decided to go with tried and true. Few titles, truly, could be more tried than "Lend Me a Tenor," Ken Ludwig's great American farce.

"Tenor," which premiered on Broadway in 1989 and was revived in 2010, takes us to Ohio for a 1934 production of "Otello," starring "Il Stupendo," Tito Merelli. (Think Pavarotti in his prime.) It's a big deal for the Cleveland Grand Opera and its cultural mavens, led by general manager Henry Saunders, whose daughter Maggie is semi-engaged (don't ask) to Max, her dad's gofer. Maggie, swooning at the prospect of Tito's arrival, feels her womanly resumé is incomplete without "a fling." Could it be with the notorious Italian womanizer? Diana (Donna English, in diva mode), Tito's Desdemona for the evening, will seduce him in exchange for entree into New York theater, while Grand Opera's "grand dame" Julia (a regally shameless Nancy Johnston) just wants to be seduced. The bellhop (impertinently comic Scott Cote) may settle for an autograph.

Tito, an impressive tenor with appropriate girth and gusto as presented by Roland Rusinek, arrives at his luxury suite (Ken Goldstein's well-appointed, six-door set), with a rumbling tummy. His wife Maria (Judy Blazer's heavily accented nag) slips him some pills so he can sleep it off. Meanwhile, to meet Merelli, Maggie (Betsy DeLillio's flighty ingénue) hides in the closet, where she's discovered by Maria, who immediately packs her bags.

It's a dead giveaway when Merelli says he's brought his own costume, plus a spare. We can bet the fat lady's dowry that both costumes (Wade Laboissonniere's design) will be deployed.

Much door-slamming misidentity ensues as no one can tell one Otello from the other, despite the vocal disparity and alternate doubling and halving of waistlines. It's part of the farcical charm, briskly directed by Don Stephenson, that would be Shakespearean in implausibility if only the tenor impostor had been female. Steve Rosen as the beleaguered opera GM and Noah Plomgren as his unctuous underling know what's going on -- in part. But what they don't know -- and how they play to their fears and foibles -- keeps "Tenor" on track to ridiculous resolution.

Bay Street resorts to an old warhorse for its season opener, but rides it well.

WHAT "Lend Me a Tenor"

WHEN | WHERE Thursday, Friday and Tuesday nights at 8, Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 and 8 p.m., Bay Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor

TICKETS $57.50-$69.50; baystreet.org, 631-725-9500

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