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‘Lend Me a Tenor’ proves the show must go on

Oxford Theatre will present its newest play, “Lend Me a Tenor,” Feb. 11-14 at the Powerhouse. The show will be a bittersweet memorial to its original director, Jim Shollenberger who died last week.

But the show must go on, said Christopher Schager, former theater teacher for the Oxford school district and co-founder of Theatre Oxford.

Shollenberger asked Schager to take over as director after he became ill in January.

“Jim was my mentor, professor and friend when I was a graduate student under him,” Schager said. “In so many ways, this is still Jim’s show. Jim’s legacy, honoring him one more time.”

Schager served as stage manager when the University of Mississippi presented “Lend Me a Tenor” in 1995 under Shollenberger.

“Lend Me A Tenor” is set in a hotel room during present day. Saunders, the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, is primed to welcome world famous, Tito Morelli, Il Stupendo, the greatest tenor of his generation, to appear for one night only as Otello.

The star arrives late and, through a hilarious series of mishaps, is given a double dose of tranquilizers and passes out. His pulse is so low that Saunders and his assistant Max believe he’s dead.

In a frantic attempt to salvage the evening, Saunders persuades Max to get into Morelli’s Otello costume and fool the audience into thinking he’s Il Stupendo. Max succeeds admirably, but Morelli comes to and gets into his other costume ready to perform. Now two Otellos are running around in costume and two women are running around in lingerie, each thinking she is with Il Stupendo

The cast includes Alex Hargett as Max; Cass Roberts as Maggie Saunders; Mike Bruner as Henry Saunders; Greg Earnest as Tito Morelli; Ines Joris as Maria Morelli; Brian Whisenant as the bellhop; Jamie Adams as Julia. Stage manager is Marya Paolillo.

Schager served as the theater teacher at Oxford High and Middle Schools from 1996-1999 before moving to Northeast Mississippi Community College where he currently serves as theatre director. He and Larry Kadlec and Rebecca Jernigan formed Theatre Oxford in 1997.

He said the biggest challenge he had with “Lend Me a Tenor” was building the set in his garage.

“It’s a very complicated set,” he said. “The biggest reward in directing this show was the scripts complex comic nuance and physicality. It’s an American classic and a pleasure to direct.”

The show is recommended for those 8 years old and up as some of the content is suggestive and for more mature audiences.

“It’s a bawdy farce that’s been produced all over the county and all should see its wonderful action and mistake identity,” Schager said. “You’ll love it!”