Tenor entanglements

A Comedy of Tenors (Growl Theatre)

Windsor School of the Arts

March 4 – 19

If there is one thing that Growl Theatre does well, it is a farcical comedy of errors. The full-house audience at its production of Ken Ludwig’s “A Comedy of Tenors” indicates that expectation is high for a night of hijinks-type humour and as the evening unfolds, these anticipations are well and truly met. The story can be summed up quite simply… One hotel suite, four tenors, two wives, three girlfriends and a soccer stadium filled with screaming fans. Nothing can go wrong… right?

It is mid-1930s Paris (cue a few reliable out-of-the-gate jokes about French hygiene and cuisine) and the stage is set for the concert of the century … if highly-strung and opportunistic Henry Saunders (Brad Ashwood) can keep amorous Italian superstar Tito Merelli (Brendan James) and his hot-blooded wife (Aeryln O’Brien) from causing runaway chaos (insert opportunity for some over-the-top Italian accent work too, in keeping with farce’s requirement of crude characterisation along with improbable situations).

Hyperbolic in its ridiculousness, the play is full of quick exits and entrances, especially from a hardworking James as both operatic superstar Merelli and his surprisingly well-voiced dead-ringer bellhop Beppo, in the cresendoing chaos in an out of the story’s elegant hotel suite setting. Playing more than on character is no easy task in any work and this is certainly amplified in a farce. James maintains ceaseless energy and presence throughout the show as both Tito and Beppo, jumping between the two roles without losing a beat of comic timing. And O’Brien is dynamic in exaggerated mode as Tito’s glamourous, hot-blooded wife Maria, especially in banter with her equally diva-esque (and insanely jealous) husband. She easily takes us from early attempts to sooth his ego in response to reflection about his advancing age and waning appeal to female fans, to demand of a divorce and determination to spend all of his money at Chanel in response to an infidelity misunderstanding.

Ashleigh Horsfield, too, gives a solid performance as Tito and Maria‘s wide-eyed and romantic 21-year-old daughter Mimi, who hopes to make it in showbiz as an actress alongside maintaining a relationship with secret lover Carlo Nucci, the famous young singer who is challenging her father’s place as the prime tenor in the operatic world. Meanwhile Tyler Shae not only gives Nucci a natural charm, but enables one of the show’s most memorable moments as the tenors try to (overly) dramatically out opera each other.

Members of the cast, which also includes Thomas Coade as rising opera star and former assistant to Saunders, Max, and Shirley Moran as an intense Russian opera singer who has a secret history with Tito, all work well together to maintain the energy required of the genre as folly frenetically follows folly thanks to emerging entanglements, mistaken identities and incorrectly-assumed adultery (cue an array of sexual innuendoes as well).

With a story so high on hijinks, “A Comedy of Tenors” is total escapist comedy and perfect fodder for this community theatre group to do what it does best. Under the direction of Leisa Bye and Marion Jones, pace is maintained to deliver an appropriately madcap delight of impeccable timing and resulting laughs aplenty for its appreciative audience.


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