Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley
A Comedy of Tenors
As with the earlier play, mistaken identity and the temperamental world of opera performance account for much of the plot. Saunders (Ron Orbach) has arranged a barn-burner of a concert in Paris: he is planning to introduce The Three Tenors, a trio of superstars comprised of his former assistant/current opera star (and son-in-law) Max (Rob McClure), the Italian divo Tito Morelli (Bradley Dean), and Sweden's songbird Jussi Björling. Of course, everything is bound to go wrong.
Approaching middle age, Tito feels the threat of a younger tenor, Carlo Nucci (Bobby Conte Thornton), encroaching on his territory. He also fears that his wife, Maria (Antoinette LaVecchia), is unfaithful, and cannot come to terms with the fact that his daughter Mimi (Kristen Martin) is now a young woman of marriageable age. Shortly after Jussi Björling cancels his appearance and absconds to Sweden, Tito misinterprets something he sees and withdraws himself. All within three hours of curtain. Hilarity ensues!
Or so it should. Unfortunately, A Comedy of Tenors is little more than a rehash of Lend Me a Tenor's much funnier plot, with second rate jokes and a cast of actors who seem to be in different plays. Style is everything in farce, and it is important that cohesion exists in the ensemble. So why is Dean mugging like he's on "The Carol Burnett Show," while Martin's Mimi vamps in the style of old-school burlesque? (And although it's noted that Tito and Maria's alabaster, blonde daughter went to high school in the U.S., it makes no sense that she speaks unaccented English and doesn't appear to know Italian).
McClure is a rubber-faced funnyman with an immensely likeable stage presence. Max is cast as the straight man, his wackiness in service of restoring order when the other, crazier characters step out of line. Director Stephen Wadsworth has him jumping and swinging around the stage like an orangutan on steroids, and it's impossible not to notice how hard he has to work to make his meager part appear funny. (I look forward to seeing him on Broadway next month in Noises Off, a much funnier farce in which he has a much funnier role.)
Orbach manages to wring some laughs out of Saunders' walking-ulcer personality, yet he spends much of the first act delivering his lines directly to the audience for no discernible reason. The two best performances come from LaVecchia, who sinks her teeth into Maria's red-blooded Italianate elan; and Lisa Brescia, who appears briefly in the second act as a heavily accented Russian soprano who once shared a night of amore with Tito.
Wadsworth's production is lugubrious. One can only do so much with a script as laugh-free as Ludwig has supplied, yet Wadsworth has done little to create the breathless, backbreaking hothouse atmosphere needed for farce. Pauline Kael once wrote that Hal Prince directed the film version of A Little Night Music as if he'd never seen a movie before. Slogging through these endless, joyless two hours, I asked myself if Wadsworth had ever seen Molière or Cowardlet alone Ludwig.
A Comedy of Tenors continues at Princeton's McCarter Theatre Center, in Princeton, New Jersey, through November 1, 2015. Tickets can be purchased at the box office (91 University Place), by phone (609-258-2787), or online at www.mccarter.org.