White Rock Players Club’s production of A Comedy of Tenors continues at the Coast Capital Playhouse until Feb. 23. (Contributed photos)

REVIEW: Strong cast, direction helps ‘A Comedy of Tenors’ hit the high notes

White Rock Players’ farce continues at Coast Capital Playhouse until Feb. 23

If you’re a fan of risqué farces, and enjoy live theatre silliness of all kinds, run, walk or snowshoe to Coast Capital Playhouse before White Rock Players Club’s production of Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors ends its brief run on Feb. 23.

The club’s current renaissance continues – following a Christmas panto, Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom, that rang all the right bells – with this amiable, crowd-pleasing production.

Picking up where her promising Don’t Dress For Dinner left off last year, director Julianne Christie has surpassed the previous show on all counts.

A Comedy of Tenors is strongly cast in all roles, keeps moving at a steady pace, and is replete with all the expected ‘naughty’ situations and double-entendres that have fueled farce, and kept audiences laughing, for centuries.

Christie’s professional, performance-building approach has crafted strong scenes and bravura set-pieces, and she has clearly encouraged her actors, not merely to play the lines and situations, but to play with them.

The resulting ping-pong of words and action supplies many laughs throughout, and contributes to the overall impression of a reassuringly smooth production that seems to knows exactly where it’s going.

Unfortunately – and this is really my one critical note – where A Comedy of Tenors is going is not exactly the 1930s Paris required by the script.

While the show deserves kudos for having a fully-designed ‘look’ – all shows, whether amateur or professional, should – the production loses some ground by making only a vague stab at fidelity to place and time. Robin Meggs deco-esque hotel room set and Andrea Olund’s decor are impressive, and I appreciate that most of the men got their hair cut, but, with some notable exceptions, costume, hair and makeup are all over the map, decade-wise.

For most, that will likely not diminish enjoyment of an entertaining follow-up to Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor.

Cleveland operatic entrepreneur Henry Saunders (Fred Partridge) is now in Paris to produce a historic ‘three tenors’ concert with new tenor protegé Max (Dann Wilhelm), his son in law and erstwhile assistant. Also on the bill are Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling and Saunders’ former nemesis, volatile Italian tenor Tito Merelli (Jaques Lalonde).

As Saunders should know by now, Merelli brings a whole trunkload of complications with him. There’s his equally volcanic wife Maria (Launi Bowie) and his reputation for womanizing – a former flame, Russian soprano Tatiana Racon (Jackie Block) is also in Paris, seeking a reunion. To add to the impending trouble, Merelli’s daughter, aspiring actress Mimi (Adrian Shaffer) is also embroiled in an affair with Merelli’s professional rival, young American tenor Carlo Nucci (Tanner Nelson).

Meanwhile, lurking in the hallways of the luxurious Paris hotel, is a bellhop named Beppo – also a tenor, and, startlingly, a dead ringer for Merelli.

It gets as complicated as you’d expect and the talented cast helps it along admirably.

The creative and comedic Lalonde is a fine choice for both Merelli and his lookalike – shifting gears, seemingly effortlessly, from the former’s age-driven angst and entertainingly jealous rages to the latter’s simplistic hedonism and basic randiness.

In their encounters with both incarnations Bowie matches Lalonde zinger line for zinger line, amusingly capturing every facet of the passionate, pragmatic Maria, while Block’s Tatiana, complete with Russian accent and fondness for animal impressions in the bedroom, manages to be both slinky and funny at the same time.

As the young lovers, both Shaffer and Nelson show star quality in both verbal and physical comedy. Shaffer is becoming a familiar face on the White Rock stage, and her consistently intelligent playing as Mimi, and well-modulated voice, notch up yet another effective, nuanced portrayal. Nelson, a newcomer of great promise handles his dialogue with understanding and creativity, and while not built on classic tenor lines, successfully suggests the right posture and mannerisms when required to simulate singing performance.

Partridge provides the right humorous pitch of animated frenzy and bullheadedness for Saunders, and Wilhelm, while in a less showy role, succeeds in hitting all the right notes as Max, whether striving to make peace between the other characters or using his tenor voice to hush the din of argument.

For more information about the production, or for tickets, go to whiterockplayers.ca/events/a-comedy-of-tenors

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