By Nickky F. P. de Guzman, Reporter

Theater Review
A Comedy of Tenors
Repertory Philippines
Ongoing until Feb. 18
Onstage, Greenbelt 1,
Ayala Center, Makati City

COMEDY IS said to be the most challenging theatrical genre to pull off. In order to draw laughter, after all, one needs to step up from tired slapstick, smarten one’s antics, and consider critical factors like: “Who is my audience?” “What will they find funny?” and, “Will they be able to get the joke?” But perhaps the more daunting task is to show a foreign comedy to a local audience of diverse age groups some of whom have different perceptions of what will get them to laugh out loud (LOL) and rolling on the floor laughing (ROFL).

For its season opener, Repertory Philippines is staging Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, until Feb. 18. As its title explicitly states, the play is a comedy, about the seven people who all cross paths in one suite in the Faubourg Ritz hotel in Paris six hours before a big concert.

A Comedy of Tenors features a colorful cast of characters: Tito Mirelli, an aging Italian opera star, his temperamental wife Maria Mirelli, their daughter Mimi and her lover Carlo Nucci who is Tito Mirelli’s rival; guest star Russian opera singer Tatiana Racón; concert producer Henry Saunders and his frazzled assistant Max; and the hotel’s bellhop Beppo. What could possibly go wrong when you only want to mount a huge concert starring three of the best and most professional opera artists in the world? Everything. The characters soon find themselves in a chaotic mess of clashing egos, mistaken identities, secret love affairs, and bedroom hijinks.

This is a sequel to Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig successful comedy Lend Me a Tenor (1989), which The Washington Post called “one of the classic comedies of the 20th century.” Twenty-five years after debuting Lend Me a Tenor, Mr. Ludwig revisited its story and wrote the sequel, A Comedy of Tenors, which first went on stage in 2015.

Because of copyright issues, Rep and the show’s director Miguel Faustmann could not change the story or localize any of the jokes — and this is where the problem comes in.

Watching the two-hour play is like pretending to understand a foreign movie without subtitles. While A Comedy of Tenors is in English and its characters sing live Italian opera songs (they are very good), there is still a disconnect in the punchlines and jokes because they are too foreign (the setting is in Paris) and too old (the story happens in 1936) for this millennial. The only people LOL-ing in the audience during the media preview on Jan. 26 were the older ones who got the play’s outdated sense of humor. Much of the play’s fun relies heavily on the characters’ exaggerated Italian and Russian accents. There are also a lot of name-drops whom not everybody may recognize unless they are diehard opera, movie, and literature fans.

The saving grace of the show are its magnificent cast members who both can sing and act, of whom Lorenz Martinez deserves the most applause. He plays two characters — the Italian superstar Tito Mirelli and the hotel’s bellhop Bepo, which requires him to sing opera, do a lot of exaggerated Italian accents, and then make mad dashes backstage for quick costume changes.

“There were a lot of running and a lot of ‘bilisan mo, i-suot mo ito (quick, wear this),’” said Mr. Martinez, smiling, after the show.

Issa Litton, who plays Mrs. Mirelli, said she learned her Italian accent by watching YouTube videos.

For her accent as Russian singer Tatiana Racón, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez (Mr. Martinez’s real life wife), said she too watched YouTube videos and consulted with their resident “accent master” Jeremy Domingo, who played the concert producer Henry Saunders.

Arman Ferrer, tackled the role of Italian tenor singer Carlo Nucci, meanwhile said he had the most accent adjustments because he is not used to doing foreign productions — he has mostly performed in local productions and has played multiple Filipino lead roles like Emilio Aguinaldo in Nicanor Tiongson’s Mabining Mandrigma and Julio Madiaga in Joel Lamangan’s Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag the Musical.

Still, one should give A Comedy of Tenors a chance for its good and versatile cast — just don’t expect to LOL and ROFL that much. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

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