BWW Reviews: Madcap COMEDY OF TENORS a comedic tour de farce
There are two inherent dangers when presenting a sequel. The first is those who saw the earlier work will, undoubtedly, compare the current work to the former. The second is those who didn't see the previous piece might become lost when viewing the later work.
A COMEDY OF TENORS, which runs July 13-22 at the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Road in Newark), skillfully dodges both pitfalls. Technically, the play is a sequel to Ken Ludwig's earlier comedy, LEND ME A TENOR and features many of the same characters as the earlier play. However, thanks to a delightful cast, the Weathervane's take on the sequel stands on its own merits.
Set in 1930s Paris, A COMEDY OF TENORS picks up where LEND ME A TENOR left off. Opera promoter Henry Saunders (Mark Mann) has organized a concert featuring three of the world's greatest tenors -- Tito Merelli (played by Ian Short), Swedish star Jussi Björling and Saunders' underling Max (Angelo McDonough). Hours before the opening curtain, the event appears ready to implode. Tito has yet to show and, when he does, he is crestfallen that his own popularity is being overshadowed by young heartthrob Carlo Nucci (Jack Baylis), who is also in Paris. To make matters worse, Björling learns his mother has passed away and pulls out of the show. Unaware of the rivalry between the two, Saunders invites Nucci to replace Björling.
Then the fireworks start. Nucci is in love with Mimi (Emily Brennan), Merelli's daughter. Merelli's wife's Maria (Michelle Weiser) catches the two cavorting in Merelli's suite and, after Mimi flees from the room, Nucci confesses to Maria how much he loves Mimi. However, Tito overhears half of the conversation and believes Nucci has seduced his wife and then refuses to perform in the concert. With his Three Tenor concert reduced again to two singers, Saunders again contemplates canceling the concert when he hears Beppo, a golden throated gondolier singer turned bellhop, singing in the hallway. Beppo (also played by Short) is, naturally, a dead ringer for Merelli and Saunders offers him a role as the third tenor.
Both LEND ME A TENOR and A COMEDY OF TENORS thrive on slapstick comedy, mistaken identities, and catchy wordplay. Weathervane's cast handles the nuances of Ludwig's script easily. Short carries off the nuances of playing both mercurial Tito and mellow Beppo easily and Weiser does a great job maintaining the balancing act as Tito's hot tempered wife and a soother of his wrinkled ego. Mann and McDonough capture the manic energy of Saunders and Max. Baylis and Brennan are also perfectly paired as a couple. Kaitlin Descutner (Racon) and Colin Robertson (Jacques) add strong support to the comedic chaos.
If there is a complaint about the show, it would be that the script didn't call for this cast to showcase their singing voices. Having seen Short, McDonough, Mann, Baylis and Weiser in SOUTH PACIFIC and Descutner in a variety of shows, it was a shame not to hear them display their extraordinary singing abilities.
It's usually a sign of a bad review when one writes the best part of the play was the curtain closing. However, in this case, the cast's reenactment of the entire play in less than two minutes during the curtain call offered a reminder of how funny this play was and allowed me to leave with a smile on my face.
The final four performances of A COMEDY OF TENORS are 8 p.m. July 19-22 at the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Road in Newark). Call 740-366-4616 for ticket information.