Sunset’s ‘comedy of tenors’ hits high notes of humor
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published Sept. 9, 2019
Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” certainly rates high on any list of comic farces. So, why not do a sequel?
Sunset Playhouse is tackling the Ludwig comedy “A Comedy of Tenors,” which brings back many characters from his earlier work.
Under the direction of Michael Pocaro, Sunset’s King of Farce, Sunset’s cast dives into the comedy and comes through swimmingly.
This show doesn’t compare to the high-speed romp of “Lend Me Tenor” with its two rooms, numerous doors and hilarious situations. Many of the characters return, but it is more like “Tenor Lite.”
There is lots to laugh at here, however, with nary a hint of anything political, controversial or serious. It is pure, unadulterated fun and screwball comedy.
Among the characters returning from “Lend Me a Tenor” for “A Comedy of Tenors” is producer Henry Saunders (Ralph Frattura). This time he’s in Paris in 1936, putting on a show at a soccer stadium. The show is starring several famous tenors, incuding Tito Morelli (Bob Fuchs), also featured in the first “Tenor,” who again battles with his hot-tempered Italian wife Maria (Mary Rynders). Also returning for this show is the reluctant tenor Max (Corey Klein), whose dreams of becoming an opera singer – and marrying producer Saunders’ daughter – come true.
Saunders, played with total exasperation by Frattura, again is frustrated by a variety of disasters that befall his production – one tenor bows out, the mercurial Tito walks out on his wife and the show, a bellhop tenor replacement – and Tito doppelganger – has a big appetite for women – and food -- that sidetracks his big role.
The show is basically Farce 101. Confusion reigns as Tito and the bellhop look like one and the same (both played by Bob Fuchs), his daughter’s boyfriend Carlo -- and rival tenor -- is mistakenly thought to be his wife’s lover, plus a star soprano thinks the bellhop is Tito. Doors open at inopportune times, characters chase each other around the room and are pummeled, and some are found, literally, with their pants down.
While there is lots to laugh at, it just pales in comparison to “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Leading Ladies” and other Ludwig shows. He seems to be grasping for comedy at times, such as when the large animal tongue, part of a snack table spread, inexplicably turns into a puppet in the hands of the bellhop, or when Saunders spouts, “Oh cheese and rice, what do we do now.”
Nonetheless, there is still plenty of Ludwig’s wit to go around, as when Tito slips in lines from his operas in his conversations.
The first act reprises Tito and Maria and their volatile relationship, which is wonderfully portrayed by Fuchs and Rynders, who stomp about, wagging fingers, screaming at each other .Rynders’ Maria tells Tito, “You gotta heart, you gotta soul, but you eata lika pig.” They are great fun to watch and Ludwig seems to have invested his best work in them, which Fuchs and Rynders handle beautifully.
Klein as Max, Saunders’ do-everything guy (from cleaning toilets to starring in his show!), is the eye of the storm created by Tito, Maria, Saunders and others. Klein’s Max stays relatively calm during the show’s unraveling, but nicely transforms into an anxious dad when he learns his first child is arriving a continent away.
Tito’s daughter, Mimi, played by Alyssa Pankiewicz, and her secret boyfriend, Tito’s rival, Carlo, played by Stefan Kent, have plenty of opportunity to show off their comedic skills. Kent handles the physical humor well and adds his well-tuned tenor voice to Fuch’s Tito and Klein’s Max’s memorable musical moment. Pankiewicz gets to air out her vocal cords effectively as she’s caught off guard and has great energy for her bigger role in Act 2.
Tanya Tranberg always adds something special to even a small role, like the diva soprano, Racon, she plays in this show. Tranberg is free-spirited, flirty and delightfully accented as she steps into the middle of a pre-concert mess.
Act 2 features Fuchs (wearing a very cheesy mustache) as Beppo, Tito’s look-alike, who tells his story of his days as a singing gondolier, then a bellhop who finds himself in a starring role before thousands of people. It’s about the closest the show gets to a serious moment when Beppo muses, “Life is funny … I have to wait my turn (for success).” Fuchs has his hands full, effectively portraying the two characters in Act 2.
While this isn’t Ludwig at his best, “A Comedy of Tenors” still has plenty of hilarious situations and fast-moving comedy expertly delivered by an accomplished cast.
If You Go:
Who: Sunset Playhouse
What: “A Comedy of Tenors”
When: Through Sept. 22
Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove
Tickets/Info: 262-782-4430; sunsetplayhouse.com