Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Actor Brings Positive Energy to "Lend Me a Tenor"

Posted by Bruce Miller
According to this morning's scale, I gained 1.8 pounds at yesterday's Opening Night cast party of Lend Me a Tenor. It was worth it. As always, Jennings Whiteway prepared a tasty table of treats for everyone to enjoy post-performance. But it was the good company and overall sense of celebration that prompted my indulgence. The show was TERRIFIC. All parties involved had one heck of a good time.

Allow me introduce you to one of the actors (a star of Lend Me a Tenor) who is actuating all this good cheer--Barksdale newcomer, Nick Ciavarella (pronounced Shiv-a-rel'-la).

Nick plays Max, the eager beaver young assistant to the Executive Director of the Cleveland Opera in 1934. Max is fervently in love with the director's daughter, and a definite divo wannabe.

Nick lives in NYC, where he is artistic director of Sound and Space Theatre, a new company that specializes in site-specific productions. He holds an MA in Classical Acting from the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama in London. While in England, he appeared in The Factory's production of Hamlet, touring throughout the UK.

We discovered Nick this summer when he ably starred with the Virginia Shakespeare Festival in Comedy of Errors (Antipholus of Syracuse) and Hamlet (Horatio). The Virginia Shakespeare Festival is presented each summer in Williamsburg under the direction of Christopher Owens, husband of Barksdale actress Tamara Johnson.

Casting often requires very specific qualities. For example, the role of Otello in the opera-within-the-play is described as huge, manly and intimidating. In several lines, the Lend Me a Tenor characters wax lyrical about Otello's great size and prowess. We knew that the actor who would play Tito Merelli (who would be cast as Otello in the opera-within-the-play) had to be tall and robust. Tito is played in our production by Joe Pabst.
Therefore the character of Max had to be of equal height, since Max and Tito must be mistaken for each, at extremely close quarters, several times during all the farcical goings on. (The picture above and to the left show Nick and Joe in their Otello costumes and makeup.)

At the same time, much is made of the fact that Max isn't large enough to play Otello, so we knew we needed an actor who was very tall but also very thin--someone who matched Tito's profile only after he donned considerable padding. Nick, God bless him, is tall and trim--exactly what we needed.

He also has all the other qualities we were looking for--leading man good looks, the ability to appear kind of nebbishy before his glasses and insecurities come off, great comic timing, and an overall ability to command the stage. Nick also appears to be right on the cusp between youthfulness and manliness--exactly where Max needs to be.

When our brilliant director, Scotty Wichmann, saw Nick's video audition and became aware of his abundant talents, he knew he'd found the right man for the job. We're very fortunate that Nick is joining us for this comic romp. We hope and trust this first gig in Richmond won't be his last.

During the run of Lend Me a Tenor, Nick is living in Bon Air in one of Theatre IV's five actor/intern houses. Actually, he's in the same house and room occupied by Jeff McCarthy during our summer run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. When Nick arrived via train about a month ago, he graciously commented on how this was the best actor housing he'd ever been provided.

Little did any of us know that a week or so into rehearsals Nick and his new Bon Air home would be visited by that vixen Irene. Neither did we foresee that Nick's adopted neighborhood would be one of the last to be blessed with a restoration of power.

New to town, with no friends except the few he had just met, Nick lived ten days in the dark with no refrigeration or hot water. He learned his lines by candlelight, but also had the good sense to turn lemons into lemonade. "It was a blessing in disguise," he says. "It forced me to leave the house every morning and explore all of Richmond's many neighborhoods and attractions. I had a great time. Richmond now feels like home."

If you'd like to meet Nick (pictured to the left in a previous production of The Philadelphia Story) and experience firsthand his joie de vivre, call the Barksdale box office today at 282-2620 to purchase your tickets to our new comedy smash, Lend Me a Tenor. I know you'll be glad you did.

--Bruce Miller

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