LEND ME A TENOR, Candlelight's Forum Theatre. Ken Ludwig's homage to 30s screwball comedy is in fine shape in this new staging by William Pullinsi, which pulls together veterans of the play's long-running 1991-'93 Chicago production and newcomers. Ludwig's story of a Milquetoast opera-house manager drafted to impersonate a high-priced Italian superstar is an often hilarious variation on vintage farce, packed with slamming doors, mistaken identities, and stock characters. To these classic elements (staples of Roman humor, Renaissance commedia dell'arte, Shakespeare, and Feydeau, as well as the Kaufman-Hart concoctions Tenor evokes), Ludwig has cleverly added just enough references to grand opera to please classical-music aficionados while not going over others' heads.
The new production's chief asset is Larry Wyatt's crisply timed performance as Max, the twerp who learns to sing testissimo when he's forced to fill in for "Il Stupendo," the Caruso clone whose apparent death threatens to ruin an opening-night gala. With the role's periodic bursts of hysterical panic, the manic Max is easy to overdo; Wyatt eagerly embraces the part's exaggerated intensity but also keeps the character grounded in emotional reality. Also effective is Colleen Crimmins as a predatory diva whose casting-couch strategy for success sets up a double entendre-filled seduction scene with Il Stupendo (Dale Morgan, effectively reprising his role from last year). With Pullinsi stalwart Dale Benson as Wyatt's curmudgeonly boss and able support from most of the cast, this is breezy, just slightly naughty commercial entertainment with happy endings all round.