Brad Carroll helped write ‘Lend Me a Tenor the Musical’ and now will direct it at Solvang Festival Theater

By Raiza Giorgi

PCPA musical theater director Brad Carroll once hiked in the dark to see the sunrise from atop Mount Fuji in Japan.

Brad Carroll compares the creation of his next show, “Lend Me A Tenor,” to his arduous hike in the dark, after just a few hours of sleep, from a base camp to the summit of Mount Fuji in Japan.

“Working on a play, it’s very much putting your faith like you’re walking in the dark, hopeful those steps will lead you to the right place at the right time, and when the curtains open the audience will delight as much as I did sitting on top of Mount Fuji watching that sunrise,” said the Santa Ynez Valley native and PCPA musical theater director.

“Lend Me A Tenor The Musical,” a farce of mistaken identities and unsuspected romance, will run from July 6-23 at the Solvang Festival Theater — where Carroll used to be an usher.

Carroll started at the bottom of the theater mountain when he attended Santa Ynez Valley Union High School. He was a musician, and he decided to take a theater class.

“I was bit by the bug, and here we are some 30-plus years later. I can’t imagine life any other way,” he said.

The acting bug bit Brad Carroll when he took a theater course at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School. He was also an usher at Solvang Festival Theater, where his musical will open on July 6.

After graduating in 1974, he went to San Francisco State for a time before coming back to enroll in PCPA, the Pacific Conservatory Theatre, at Hancock College in Santa Maria.

Carroll’s love for music kept pulling at him, and then a teacher suggested he could pursue both passions by becoming a musical director.

“The seed was planted, and after graduating PCPA I became the musical director for the Great American Melodrama in Oceano for more than a year. I thought going back to college was a good idea. That didn’t happen, and I came back to the Melodrama,” he laughed.

In between the Melodrama seasons, Carroll would do summer theater in Utah and in upstate New York. He lived briefly in New York City and directed plays all around the East Coast.

“New York is very expensive and I got tired of the rat race, so I came back again to the Central Coast and PCPA, becoming music director here for 12 years,” he said.

Carroll then worked for Disney for several years to help choreograph shows for their “new park” in Tokyo.

“Living in Japan was amazing, and a great experience, which is how I ended up climbing Mt. Fuji with some of my friends. Watching that sunrise was quite possibly one of the best memories I will ever have,” he said.

Because of his extensive travels and meeting theater folk from all around the world, Carroll and his friend Peter Sham were asked to write and put together a show from their Shakespeare Festival days in Utah, and producers wanted to fund it.

“We spent so much time trying to think of what we could do different, and Peter approached his playwright friend Ken Ludwig that wrote “Lend Me A Tenor,” and we struck a deal,” Carroll said.

The original “Lend Me A Tenor,” a comedic play that premiered in 1986, was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won two, for best actor and best director.

Brad Carroll, right, is shown with friend and creative partner Peter Sham in London’s West End, where their musical adaptation of “Lend Me A Tenor” opened in June 2011.

Then Carroll (music) and Sham (book and lyrics) turned the play into a musical that was first presented as a staged reading in 2006 as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s New American Playwright project. After some rewriting, it was performed to rave reviews as part of the festival’s summer repertory season in 2007 before moving on to London’s West End.

The story is set in 1934 in Cleveland. Tenor virtuoso Tito Merelli is about to revive one of his great triumphs for the 10-year anniversary of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. However, when Tito becomes unexpectedly incapacitated, a suitable replacement must be found.

Max, the opera director’s sheepish assistant, is charged with the daunting task of finding a suitable replacement — while dealing with a menacing soprano, a tenor-struck ingénue, a jealous wife, and the Cleveland Police Department. Mayhem, lunacy and sheer panic ensue, but in the end the show must always go on.

The show does go on for Carroll, who is working on more productions with PCPA and looks forward to coming to Solvang when “Lend Me A Tenor” opens.

Carroll directs the production. The creative team also includes Choreographer Katie Wackowski, Music Director Paul Marszalkowski, Scenic Designer Jason Bolen, Costume Designer Eddy L. Barrows, Lighting Designer Tim Thistleton, Sound Designer Elisabeth Weidener, and Production Stage Manager Ellen Beltramo.

The cast features Matt Koenig as Bernie Guter, Erik Stein as Henry Saunders, Kitty Balay as Opera Guild Lady, Karin Hendricks as Diana Divane, George Walker as Tito Merelli, Bree Murphy as Maria Merelli, and guest artist Joe Ogren as Max Garber.

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