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St. Albert Dinner Theatre sends in the clowns

Suspend disbelief during Lend Me a Tenor and enjoy the ride
Bob Latimer (left) and Christopher Thrall star as clown opera singers in St. Albert Dinner Theatre's production of Lend Me a Tenor.

St. Albert Dinner Theatre ends its season with a bang — and door slamming, a pillow fight, pratfalls and tons of mistaken identity. Lend Me a Tenor is just a few clowns short of circus, and judging by the constant ripple of laughter, the audience loved it. 

Bob Latimer and Christopher Thrall, two actors who play opera singers dressed as Pagliacci, the clown, look completely different. Yet, their characters are mistaken for each other throughout most of playwright Ken Ludwig’s clever farce. 

Supposed look-alikes who are quite dissimilar are in fact a staple of farce. And if the audience can suspend its disbelief, it morphs into part of the fun. That suspension of disbelief is necessary when Thrall, who plays Tito Merelli, a larger-than-life Italian opera star, is assumed to be dead from an overdose. 

In fact, Tito, nicknamed “Il Stupendo,” is a man of lavish appetites. After developing a stomach ache from eating too much food, he ingests tranquillizers and alcohol and falls into a deep sleep. Sprawled on a bed, Tito is clearly breathing but it’s one of many comical visual gags that throw his hosts in a tizzy. 

The play is set in the 1930s in an elegant hotel suite divided into a bedroom and living room. Tito and Maria, his wife, arrive at the hotel to rest before he sings Pagliacci at the Cleveland Grand Opera House. 

With Tito presumed dead, Saunders, the opera manager, instructs his assistant Max, a wannabe opera singer, to don the Pagliacci clown costume. Someone must take Tito’s place or the company will have to refund thousands of tickets. Max hesitantly agrees. To complicate matters, Tito wakes up and dresses in his identical costume, resulting in the two actors being mistaken for each other. 

This nonsense comedy relies heavily on physical humour, which Ludwig’s play demands. It weaves manic sparring, complex deceptions and a series of attempts at seduction into a comical tapestry. Additionally, the action at times takes place in both rooms simultaneously. Director Stuart McGowan deserves kudos for juggling all these balls and allowing the show to find its comic pace. 

Christopher Thrall as Tito gives a robust, dynamic performance while Bob Latimer as Max is the perfect foil as the opera manager’s meek assistant who blossoms into a confident singer. 

Rob Beeston brings more than a few laughs as Saunders, the nervous, conniving manager. And Darienne Johnson as Maggie, Saunders daughter and Max’s fiancé, is determined to gain some “experience” before she settles down with Max. 

Laurie Borle, as Maria, Tito’s jealous wife is a worthy adversary to Il Stupendo. Convinced he is cheating, Maria fights with him and punctuates her lines with clawing motions and throws pillows.  

Carolyn McGratton as Julia, chairwoman of the opera house, sparkles as she majestically sweeps onto the stage and implies she is open to a liaison with Tito. Jenn Bewick as the show's soprano, is eager to move into New York operatic circles and also tries to seduce Il Stupendo. 

David McKay, a first-time performer with the dinner theatre company, delivers a charismatic and humorous performance as the Bellhop and Tito’s number one fan.  

The jokes hit the nail on the head and the action moves at warp speed, a testament to a committed group of people unafraid to mine the ridiculous. 

Lend Me a Tenor runs April 11 to 13 and 18 to 20 at Kinsmen Banquet Hall. For tickets visit  

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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