The setting of Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor is the mid-1930s--the era in which a cute, raffish teenager named Mickey Rooney was lighting up the screen as Huck, Puck, and Andy Hardy. Today Rooney's a roly-poly, red-faced old clown, well suited to the starring role in this screwball comedy about a regional opera impresario who thinks his Italian guest artist has died on the night of a gala opening. The play, written as farce, has been transformed to burlesque by Rooney, who peppers Ludwig's dialogue with his own buffoonery: shamelessly breaking the invisible fourth wall, he struts into the audience to shake hands with fans, tosses off zingers about his diminutive height and multiple marriages, feigns shock at the script's naughty double entendres, and turns his role into a vaudevillian variation on classic commedia dell'arte characters. He's part Pantaloon and part Punchinello, coarse, vulgar, violent, and great fun. The best thing about Rooney's performance is the way it's goosed the other actors' energy. The interplay between David Bonanno and Jeanne Dwan as a pair of fatuous, fickle lovers is often delightful; so is the buddy bonding of Bonanno and Dale Morgan (as the overweening tenor). Jamie Baron and Mary Seibel, who've been with the long-running production since it opened, have never been better as the bellhop and dowager who cross Rooney's rambunctious path. It's not exactly the way Lend Me a Tenor was intended, but it works like crazy. Apollo Theater Center, 2540 N. Lincoln, 935-6100. Open run: Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM; additional matinee selected Wednesdays, 2 PM. $35.50-$39.50.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.