As a high schooler, my father had season tickets for Pioneer Theatre Company. I was a drama kid and this was my introduction to professional theater in Utah. For you old Salt Lakers, this was the Patrick Page era of PTC and thusly productions featuring men and tights tended to be the dominant form and received the most lavish production treatments. (The real-time growing forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I saw there in the ’80s is still one of the most impressive feats of stagecraft I’ve ever witnessed.) But amid Page’s strutting Cyranos and Oberons there were also a few laugh lines that weren’t in iambic pentameter. Notably, a production of Noises Off. Although it’s now considered an old chestnut, in 1988 it was still a hot ticket on the regional circuit (also on the high school drama competition circuit, thank you very much). PTC’s production that year would become the standard my young brain would set for funny things happening on a stage. Let’s call it the Tin-of-Sardines Corollary.
So after that long, name-dropping trip down memory lane, you’re probably going to want to know: Does PTC’s current production of, A Comedy of Tenors, pass the sardine sniff? Oh, let’s not put the bananas out with the sardines just yet.
A Comedy of Tenors is mildly risqué old school wacky night, while not at the opera, in the wings of the opera, specifically the pre-show hotel suite. Promoter, Saunders (Andy Prosky) is feverishly working to pull together the concert of his career, a performance of world-famous tenors (the actual number of tenors oscillates widely during the action) in Paris. Let’s get the roll call here. We have the young handsome rival Carlo (Storm Lineberger) to the fading icon Tito (Gregory North), the earnest young striver Max (Hansel Tan) the icon’s long-suffering wife Maria (Jennifer Cody). A would-be mistress Racon (Kirsten Wyatt) and a starry-eyed daughter Mimi (Jessica Fontana) are in the mix is well. Is that everyone? Wait. There’s a deranged bellhop named Beppo. Also, there are many doors and windows in a gorgeous, hard-working set from PTC’s Eric Resnchler for use by this whole mad, mad menagerie to storm, flee and dramatically enter and exit.
Initially, North steals the stage as the fading Idol and blowhard showman but it’s quickly stolen away by Cody, who as the shrieking Maria commands the best laughs throughout the night. Her exasperated takes, groans and moans are the best. From then it becomes an arms race beteween Cody and Wyatt as dueling mistress and wife as to who can commit harder to Platonic ideal of the fury of scorned women. The rest of the cast gamely gets out of the way and is generally forced to flee in their wake. North however is the steady rock at the center whose blink-of-an-eye costume changes keep it all working.
Oh one more thing that deserves mention: All of the opera singing characters are played by actors who can actually sing opera and do.
And … it’s pretty funny, but, alas it’s not sardines, bananas and telephones funny. The problem isn’t with the players. They are all all in on this one and the ticket is worth their impressive commitment to the madness. The fault lies in Ken Ludwig’s script. It’s flat. This play is a sequel to the definitely funny Lend me a Tenor. Like many sequels, Beverly Hills Cop II, for example, A Comedy of Tenors has its moments and some stellar schtick but it loses the magic of the original and the actors are left with spare parts and leftovers.
But tis a small thing, I’m picky. And the bottom line is: I loved seeing the actors basically go nuts on the stage. I thoroughly enjoyed all the big reveals, imagining what must have been utter chaos backstage to make them happen. (More pining for Noises Off.) The frenetic curtain call, for example, is as funny as anything in the actual play. And while I’m still waiting to once again to be bowled over by a comedy at PTC, this one beats last season’s Women In Jeopardy! and very nearly gets there.
A Comedy of Tenors continues its run through Nov. 4, 2017 at the Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre on the University of Utah campus. For tickets and information go to here.