“A COMEDY OF TENORS,” through Nov. 4, Pioneer Theatre Company at the University of Utah, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City (801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org); running time: 2 hours (one intermission)
SALT LAKE CITY — “A Comedy of Tenors” is an amusing sequel to Ken Ludwig’s 1989 Tony-winning “Lend Me a Tenor,” reflecting its entertaining screwball comedy feel and intricately entangled plot, in which mistaken identities result in many hilarious misunderstandings.
The sequel is set in the living room of an elegant 1936 Paris hotel suite. The play continues the story of renowned Italian opera tenor Tito Merelli (Gregory North) and his sassy wife, Maria (Jennifer Cody), as well as the short-tempered general manager Henry Saunders (Andy Prosky) and his long-suffering assistant, Max (Hansel Tan).
In this episode of the story, we learn that Max has married Saunders’ daughter, Maggie, who is now pregnant, with the baby’s due date fast approaching. This new father-in-law to son-in-law relationship between Henry and Max enriches the dialogue between the boss and his faithful servant throughout the play.
The play opens on Henry, who becomes vexed after learning that a tenor scheduled to sing that night alongside Tito will no longer be able to perform. As show time quickly approaches, Henry and Max scramble to find a replacement.
Their cause is not helped when both Tito and the newfound tenor replacement, Carlo (Storm Lineberger), who also happens to be dating the Merelli’s daughter, Mimi (Jessica Fontana), quit after Tito observes Maria and Carlo alone together, mistakenly believes they are having an affair and angrily confronts Carlo, who thinks Tito is upset with him for courting Mimi.
A glimmer of hope returns when Henry and Max hear hotel bellhop Beppo (North wearing a mustache) singing with his marvelous operatic voice from down the hall, and Beppo agrees to fill in with Max — now an up-and-coming tenor — at the performance. But the long-winded tenor is easily distracted when both Maria and Tito’s former lover, Racon (Kirsten Wyatt), show up in the mood for romance, believing he is Tito.
All the while, Max must balance his attempts to resolve all this chaos with the news that Maggie has started having contractions while he is still away in Paris.
At every turn of “A Comedy of Tenors,” a new plot twist ensues, weaving an elaborate and comical web of confusion and misunderstandings. But in the end, Ludwig’s clever plot comes to a satisfying, heartwarming end.
The play includes several bouts of slapstick and old-fashioned humor, including everything from drink spitting and face slapping to a head hit on a luggage cart and a hand accidentally rested on the bottom of a plunger. Beppo’s conversation with a tongue platter in the hotel suite is also quite entertaining.
A brief section of the play depicts a dramatic moment by turning the lights down to a dim red as the actors temporarily replace their lines with exaggerated motions timed to a lively opera piece. This creative and unusual scene was fun and amusing for the audience.
The spectators were also evidently impressed with the musical talent of the actors and their operatic singing. This became especially apparent in the full applause that followed a short opera piece near the beginning of the play, portrayed as Tito, Carlo and Max’s rehearsal of a song for their upcoming performance.
The acting was also impressive on all accounts. North’s skillful and at times hurried switching between Tito and Beppo’s characters showed his talent and experience, especially evident in the slight but noticeable differences between each’s accent and demeanor. Cody also gave a particularly delightful portrayal of Tito’s wife, Maria — a small, feisty and hilarious Italian woman.
Although the vast majority of the play takes place in the same setting of the Paris hotel suite living room, this was hardly noticeable beyond the fascinating unfolding plot, which kept the audience engaged.
As the cast took a final bow, the actors then dramatically fell to the ground — a reflection of their energetic, hysterical and well-executed performance of “A Comedy of Tenors.”
Content advisory: “A Comedy of Tenors” contains strong language and sexual references throughout.