Reviewed by Judy Richter
Ken Ludwig's farce takes place in a Cleveland hotel suite in 1934. Tito Merelli (Ron Lopez Jr.), the operatic equivalent of a rock star, is scheduled to sing the title role in Verdi's "Otello" for the Cleveland Grand Opera Company that night.
He's late, so the company's manager, Saunders (Craig Lewis), and his assistant, Max (Ross Neuenfeldt), are beyond worried. When Tito and his volatile wife, Maria (Nicole Martin), finally do arrive, he's tired and upset. Rather than go to rehearsal, he wants to take a nap.
He inadvertently downs a potent dose of phenobarbital along with wine and falls into a deep sleep. In the meantime, Maria has left him an unsigned farewell note. When Saunders and Max find it next to the unresponsive Tito, they believe he has committed suicide.
They're left with a dilemma. Do they cancel the show or go ahead with the no-name understudy?
The unassuming, dweeby Max, an aspiring opera singer, volunteers to assume Tito's identity and sing in his place.
While all this was transpiring, a parade of Tito's fans has stopped by, hoping to meet him. First there's Maggie (Elspeth Noble), Saunders' daughter and Max's would-be girlfriend. Also appearing are Diana (Damaris Divito), the soprano playing Desdemona; Julia (Mary Moore), chairman of the Cleveland Opera Guild; and even a bellhop, Frank (Michael Sally). The women would like to seduce him, while Frank just wants his photo and an autograph.
Things get really complicated after everyone has left for the opera house. Tito awakens from his stupor, dons his extra costume and rushes off to the opera house.
Afterward, both Max and Tito return to the hotel unbeknownst to each other. From then on, there's one hilarious misunderstanding after another.
No farce would be complete without plenty of doors for one person to hide behind when another shows up. The set by Kuo-Hao Lo (lit by Matthew Leary) serves that purpose. Likewise, Hunt Burdick's direction has honed the slamming of those doors to a fine edge.
Because it's so silly, farce might seem easy, but it requires split-second timing, which the Hillbarn cast has mastered. Likewise, farce requires an astute director like Burdick, who mines the play for maximum humor without letting things get out of hand.
The sound design by Jon Hayward features a pleasant mix of familiar operatic selections and popular tunes from the time. Costumes by Mae Heagerty-Matos generally reflect the times except for the cut of Max's business suit. On the other hand, the women's dresses are impressive.
The cast is solid, especially Neuenfeldt as Max and Lewis as Saunders. As Maggie, Noble is inclined to overact or become shrill.
Overall, however, this is a well done, highly entertaining production.
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