Rob Pierce plops down in the director’s chair he was presented by the cast after the show on Sunday. [ Panhandle Players | Contributed ]
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‘Lend Me A Tenor’ was missing a lot

There is such a long list of what the Panhandle Players did not do last weekend in performing the final show of their 2023-24 season, that I feel compelled to share these pronounced omissions so obvious throughout the staging of the Tony Award-winning farce “Lend Me A Tenor” at the Chapman Theatre.

For example, the actors did not slow to a plodding pace in the delivery of their lines and hurried dashes across the stage, thereby depriving the audience of what is so common in community troupe shows of this challenging theater genre.

There was absolutely none of those suspenseful pauses when one actor forgets his or her lines, and the audience is on the edge of their seats to see how the other actor reacts.

The many openings and closings of the bedroom, closet and bathroom doors did not shake the entire set as if it were wobbly cardboard.

The costumes did not appear cobbled together out of various hand-me-downs from previous shows.

And the musical interludes did not vary from the mood of the 1930s and did not intrude or distract from what was happening on stage.

I could go on, but these should suffice to convey that a lot was missing from “Lend Me A Tenor,” and what was left amounted to little more than merely one of the best shows the troupe has put on in many years.

There’s no point now recounting the entire plot of the show, it won’t be repeated now that the 2023-24 season is finis. It was a farce, involving the late, in all senses of the word, Tito Morelli (Nick Avossa) a world class tenor slated to appear with the Cleveland Grand Opera Company.

He arrives at the posh hotel with his wife Maria (Gina Vicari), and from the outset these two are fighting with each other with a passion that, at the risk of crossing some politically correct line here, only a pair of natural born Italians can fully bring to life. It was a joy to see Vicari, a veteran of many Players shows but not in recent years, back with the troupe and she and Avossa went at each other with unrestrained gusto. It attested to each of their more than four decades in theatre, she in show business and he with teaching, acting, directing and producing over that same period.

Playing across from Avossa was the opera company’s assistant, Max (Scott Davis), a nebbishy wannabe opera singer in love with Maggie (Sophia Fonseca), who of course is moonstruck by Morelli’s superstardom. No need to break down what happens; the important thing here is that Davis and Fonseca, who appeared in much smaller parts in their debut with Jerry Hurley’s The Trailer Park, showed that they could carry a show on their acting shoulders.

Fonseca, clad in one of the many stunning period costumes hand-sewn by assistant director Renee Valentine, was captivating as the doe-eyed ingenue, understating her allure to the point where she had the audience firmly caught in the dimples of her smile.

Davis had arguably the most difficult challenge of all the actors, in that he not only had to carry off pretending at times to be Morelli as the sad clown Pagliacci, but he had to be convincing as Max in his transformation from the exasperated suitor of Maggie to the confident wooer of her affection. His energy, his mannerisms, his delivery was so effective that it would have been a waste of good pillows for director Rob Pierce to have have fattened him up to better match Morelli’s girth. There was no need; Davis made a memorable Max.

Speaking of Pierce, this was his directing debut with Players. The word is he ran the play preparation with hands-on attention, coaxing from his actors superb performances and shaping a wonderful blend of effects. ‘Nuff said, he met the challenge head on and his success was worthy of a standing ovation.

Deserving of that applause were the other members of the ensemble cast, each up to the assignment.

Newcomer Josh Hall, who also debuted with a small role in “Trailer Park, brought to life opera company manager Saunders with a forehead vein-bursting energy both menacing and comic and a pleasure to watch. Another new addition, Dan Floyd as the bellhop balanced Hall’s fury with a gentleness that brought out the sweeter laughs, not the sarcastic ones.

The two women, both now veterans of the Players stage, balanced each other’s sexuality nicely, Mishelle McPherson as the ambituous and risque actress Diana and Debra Olds as the blue-blooded but flirtatious head of the guild Julia. Performing a fast-moving farce is no easy feat, as there can be no pause and no lapsing into implied silliness, and these two supporting actresses were solid anchors in this rollicking ship.

Nancy Friauf as the maid Elle was a small touch Pierce added to the cast and while she did not have much to say or do, the director’s gesture gave her a chance to be a part of what should go down in Players’ lore as one of the truly fine productions not only of this year but of any year.

Because it was in early April, past the “snowbird” shows whose earlier place in the winter calendar ensure they will have robust attendance, “Lend Me A Tenor” drew a smaller audience to the Chapman Theatre, which will soon have new carpeting to go along with its newly installed plush seating.

Players would be wise to make sure its best shows are placed in those coveted snowbird slots on the schedule. Rob Pierce and the entire cast and crew showed they were more than deserving of that honor.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

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  1. Couldn’t agree more with the review David. I felt that the play was absolutely brilliant and hilarious, The set was fantastic, the costumes were gorgeous and the acting and choreography was the best I’ve seen in the Panhandle Players as of yet! If it wasn’t for having seen it on Sunday’s matinee, I would have easily bought a ticket and seen it again.

  2. We live in st joe and have been attending panhandle since they were at the Dixie in apalach. This was the best production ever!! We were in the standing ovation on thursday night. Looking forward to next season! Rich &Nancy Pankuch Port St. Joe

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