There is much of the classic musical about Lend Me A Tenor The Musical, which belies the fact that it was written just half a decade ago.
As its overture plays, it takes you back to a more innocent age when there was no need to shock or wow with special effects, but just tell a silly, schmaltzy story with a sentimental heart. It is the kind of musical that makes you feel comfortable, inviting you into a world where you can feel warm and cosy before leaving the theatre with a smile on your face.
The action takes place at the Cleveland Grand Opera in 1934, a company striving to fend off its impending closure with a gala performance featuring world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli. When Merelli is first late and then ‘indisposed’, something must be done to cover his absence. The only person capable of pulling off such a charade is humble prompter Max.
At its heart, Lend Me A Tenor The Musical is the sweet tale of an underdog striving against the odds, and who can resist that? Damian Humbly is so sweet as Max that you just want to give him a hug, yet when he sings, particularly in his duet with Michael Matus’s Merelli, he has a richness of tone that warms the entire auditorium.
If Humbly is the straight man of the show, comedy comes thick and fast from a grimacing, bellowing boss Matthew Kelly, a stoney-faced, passionate Joanna Riding as Merelli’s wife and Sophie-Louise Dann as ambitious diva Diana DiVane, who runs through half the operatic repertoire in a memorable five minute second-half skit.
It all adds up to an ageless evening of fluffy fun with a touch of the Anything Goes and a hint of the Half A Sixpence’s to it. Any musical comedy where three ex-wives are all called Anna – Anna one, Anna two, Anna three – is alright by me. Peter Sham’s book and lyrics continuously find the delightfully silly joke in every situation, while Brad Carroll’s songs sound reassuringly as though you have heard them many times before.
If ever there was a director with the right sensibility to bring this show to the West End it is Ian Talbot, who had such success at the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre with productions including The Boy Friend and High Society. Here again he brings a lightness of touch and obvious love to a show that is old-fashioned in its sensibilities without feeling dated. Just the joyful medicine for a depressingly drizzly summer evening.