“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard,” is a familiar mantra in the entertainment, often in reference to stand up comedy but in the theatre world the same holds true. With Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors, Granite Theatre takes on a deceptively challenging two act farce, which feels something like a roller-coaster on a rickety track that chugs along a little slow at first, but before you know it, spirals the viewer into the comedic atmosphere at a furious rate. Director Lee Rush and the cast and crew provide a fun – if not quite epic – show that plays off how simple misunderstandings can grow into major headaches and potential – and hilarious – disasters.
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Many of the “callback jokes” and layers of misunderstandings that are at the core of the comedy of the piece are layered early in the show, with the big belly laughs coming on several scenes later. The cast has a good chemistry with clearly defined “straight” characters, there to forward the plot and action and other more over-the-top performance who provide the more obvious crowd pleasing yucks.
At the core of all of this is a wonderful and career defining performance by Keith Eugene Brayne as Italian Singing Superstar Tito Merelli, scheduled as a headliner on a huge soccer stadium show in 1936 in Paris.
Tito is a man of passions; passion for his wife, passion for his singing for career and passion for his daughter (with it fair to say the passions rank in that exact order). Brayne’s Tito and his wife Maria’s un-relenting physical passion for each other (with Maria played with zest by Veronica Strickland) is a trait inherited by their daughter Mimi (played by the spirited Danielle Conti) and her boyfriend Carlo, also an up and coming singer of great potential (played by the steady and like-able Nicholas Lombardo).
A major misunderstanding develops when Mimi and Carlo are in danger of quite literally being caught with their pants down by Mimi’s parents and the two love birds try to escape. Mimi is able to, but poor Carlo gets left behind, to be discovered by Maria. Maria, being a loyal and understanding mother, is not angry, but rather amused and even impressed by Mimi’s choice of lovers.
When Maria chats up her daughter’s boyfriend is an approving manner, Tito pokes his head into the room and mistakenly assumes Carlo is his wife’s lover, not his daughter’s. This enrages Tito, who is soon to find out that he is assigned to actually share the stage with Carlo. Of course, this further enrages Tito and he quits the show, leaving the show’s promoters with a soccer stadium of eager fans minus a major headliner.
Well, “another butt will fill that seat”, as goes another theater axiom, as just as Act One ends, a hotel bellhop named Beppo , who just so happens to look just like Tito and also just so happens to be a great, undiscovered singing talent himself (Beppo is also played by Brayne as is the traditional set up double-casting for this show), happens to be discovered by the show’s promoters.
So, Beppo, stepping into the almost literal footsteps of Tito, becomes the powder keg of comedy to ignite the second act, further flamed by the fires of Tito’s returning past lover Racon, (played with a smoldering sauciness by Lydia Fascia), Bryane and Fascia’s scenes together really stole the show from my viewpoint at the performance I attended.
The second act really does pick up overall, as once the heavy lifting of laying the foundation of the comedic bricks have been accomplished, Bryane and his co-horts really have a palate to play with.
A Comedy of Tenors is still a lot of fun and the show certainly grows on the viewer once it really gets going. The piece is a sequel to Ludwig’s 1989 Tony-winning “Lend Me a Tenor”, although it not necessary to have seen one to enjoy the other.
Most impressively is Brayne as both Tito and Beppo and the well rehearsed choreography and comedic timing needed to pull off this “double casting” performance. In fact, about halfway through the second act, I convinced myself Tito and Beppo must have been being played by twin brothers, as the action and quick costume changes were so convincing. Kudos to the entire cast and crew at Granite for another enjoyable evening of theatre.
A Comedy of Tenors is showing at the Granite through July 22 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.