Whoever said “Timing Is Everything” must appreciate Shakespeare and should value the skills of contemporary playwright Ken Ludwig whose “A Comedy of Tenors” opened without a hitch last Saturday evening at Olney Theatre Center. The mastery of seven actors maneuvering through swinging doors, in and out of hiding places, and on and off a balcony, was mind-boggling and fun to watch.
A trio of impetuous and unpredictable tenors (sometimes four, if you count the bellhop) plus three women (girlfriends, wives and lovers) and the anticipation of the “concert of the century,” produced by an anxious manager, brings about the chaos that soon unfolds. Add the discovery of hidden underwear, sexual encounters with the wrong partners, bursts of brilliant vocalizations, and lots of door slamming…well, you get the picture and a feel for this comedy.
...mind-boggling and fun to watch.
Olney director Jason King Jones has handled a cast equally skilled in silliness and Shakespeare (lots of references to the Bard’s plays) as a successor to Ludwig’s 1989 award-winning “Lend Me A Tenor.” This “Tenors” rendition reminds us to forget the current ills of our society – even for just two hours – and to laugh at the ongoing drama shaped by the operatic singers (including a Russian diva) and the hot-blooded Italian wife who starts this frenzy early in the first act.
Scenic designer Charlie Calvert created a backdrop that captures the feel of a 1930s luxury hotel suite in Paris. Think French salon with international artists, and the strains of an aria that surrounds us as the curtain opens. Moments later it’s panic time as operatic star Tito refuses to perform at the Three Tenors-like concert in a nearby soccer stadium with 100,000 patrons. And the plot thickens.
Broadway veteran John Tracey Egan makes his Olney Theatre Center debut as Tito, and what a performance he gives, first as the attention-grabbing star tenor a la Pavarotti, later as the endearing Betto, the hapless bellboy who adds his talent in the love making and the singing.
Alan Wade has a long history with Olney Theatre Center productions, going back to his 1968-69 appearance with National Players. His portrayal of the American impresario Saunders was clear and direct; he just wanted to put on the show. Vocal talent Matthew Schleigh plays Max, a “second banana” to Saunders and a warm and fuzzy friend/husband to the rest of the crew.
Alan Naylor held my interest as Carlo, the rival tenor who bursts into song with vocal purity, thanks to sound designer Justin Schmitz. Seth Gilbert is noted for his costume designs, especially for Allyson Boate, as Mimi, who manages to perform acrobatic stunts in a long gown.
All three women look gorgeous in vintage attire with wigs by LaShawn Melton. Patricia Hurley as Racon, the Soviet sex kitten soprano, is draped in a gorgeous fur wrap for the finale. For the Maria character, Emily Townley, who reminds us of Penelope Cruz in one of her steamy film performances, removes her fashionable suit for a flimsy black negligee.
“Comedy of Tenors” marks the Olney return of talented behind-the-scenes artists Casey Kaleba as fight choreographer and Sonya Dowhaluk, light designer and Brianne Taylor, dialect coach, a tough job in this show with Shakespearean lines, Italian sweet talk and Cleveland jokes.
Running time: One hour, 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes.
Ken Ludwig’s “A Comedy Of Tenors” plays on the Mainstage at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832 now through Sunday, May 12. For ticket information and additional activities involved with this show, visit online.