New Century Theatre in Northampton opens 23rd season with ‘Lend Me a Tenor’

Last modified: Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Century Theatre director Jack Neary says he’s pretty easy to please. When he’s choosing a play to direct, for example, his requirements are few: The work must be an excellent one, of course; it has to be brilliantly written and well-constructed; and it must engage and entertain the audience.

Neary’s next play, “Lend Me a Tenor,” which opens NCT’s 23rd season today, and runs through June 22, fits the bill exactly, he says.

Ken Ludwig’s Tony Award-winning comedy, set in 1934, revolves around the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company who’s desperate for a hit; a world-famous tenor who over-tranquilizes himself before a show; and cases of mistaken identity. The play, which debuted in London in 1986 and on Broadway in 1989, was praised by critics: The London Times, for example, raved about its mixing of high art with low comedy, calling “Lend Me a Tenor” a remarkable piece of theater, a masterpiece even.

“I know it will be a good experience for the audience,” Neary said in a recent phone interview. “I think ‘Lend me a Tenor’ is the perfect way to open the summer season.”

Neary, a former NCT artistic director, has worked on more than 20 plays at the Northampton-based professional, Actors’ Equity troupe that he co-founded in 1991 with Sam Rush, the theater’s producing director. He moved away from the area in 1997, eventually settling in Lowell, where he is the artistic director of the Greater Lowell Music Theatre, but has returned to the Valley nearly every year since then to direct NCT summer shows.

Rush, who invited Neary to direct “Lend Me a Tenor,” says his longtime colleague is a perfect fit for the production.

“Sometimes, it’s like you’re matching the director to the play,” Rush said in an interview last week at the Mendenhall Center at Smith College in Northampton. “This type of comedy is all about timing. He’s good at that.”

Exceptional actors

Neary arrived on the scene last week, in the midst of a company already up and running — set construction, for example, had been ongoing for a few weeks — and an opening night that was just 10 days away. Not to worry, though. Both Neary and Rush say they have plenty of experience with quick turnarounds, which are typical in summer theater programs like NCT’s. Sometimes, Neary says, he has only a week to pull a show together, so the “extra” three days were a luxury.

With just a 10-day rehearsal period, Neary says, exceptional actors are crucial to a show’s success.

“If you have the right people, it’s not complicated,” he said. “This is a really, really good piece that required a good cast, and I think I have that.”

When putting together a play, he says the quality is ultimately determined by the actors. Over the years, New Century Theatre has put together a reliable stable of actors, meaning many of Neary’s cast for this play are familiar to him. In fact, he has worked with all of them before, except one.

Some of the returnees are Sandra Blaney (Maggie), who worked with Neary in 1991 on “Jerry Finnegan’s Sister,” and Brian Argotsinger (Max), who worked with him in 1998 on “Five Nickels,” both plays written by Neary; and James Emery (bellhop), who has worked with the director “at least 10 times, maybe more,” according to Neary.

Rush, says the company’s touchstone this year is humor and heart. He’s got both, he says, with “Lend me a Tenor.”

Coming up

After “Lend mM a Tenor,” the NCT summer series continues with three more plays.

∎ First up: “The Sunset Limited,” directed by Sheila Siragusa.

After a near-fatal encounter on a New York City subway platform, two strangers meet again in a Harlem tenement apartment. The event sparks a conversation that could lead to a life-or-death decision. The play that was written by Cormac McCarthy, author of “No Country for Old Men,” runs June 27- July 6.

∎ Next up: “Good People,” directed by Rush.

The dramatic comedy set in what Rush calls the “99-percent world” of South Boston, provides a humorous setting for socioeconomic commentary.

“It’s a real conversation about class, which is really on everybody’s mind right now,” Rush said.

Margie Walsh, finds herself laid off from her minimum-wage job, and can’t pay her rent. Facing eviction, she searches for an old fling who has climbed to the financial elite. Written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, “Good People” runs from July 11-20.

∎ Closing the season: “God of Carnage,” directed by Ed Golden.

This dark comedy pits two sets of well-meaning parents against each other as they try to resolve a playground brawl between their sons. Written by Yasmina Reza, “God of Carnage” runs July 25-Aug. 3.

All performances will be in Theatre 14 at the Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts at Smith College, 122 Green St. in Northampton. Tickets cost $30; $28 for seniors 65 or older. Student rush tickets cost $15, at the door. To reserve, call 585-3220 or visit


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