‘A Comedy of Tenors’ opens this week at Santa Barbara City College
“A Comedy of Tenors” will end on a high note.
That’s according to director Katie Laris, who said the Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College production goes beyond the standard theatrical farce. “There’s a lot of heart to it. There’s a lot of happiness in the show.
“There are moments of mistaken identities, the classic thing in a farce of people going out one door and coming in from another, and emotional highs and lows,” Ms. Laris told the News-Press. “It’s also a real sweet story about the love between a lot of people and their love of opera and how they’re all incredibly passionate when it comes to singing and emoting.”
Audiences will see and hear that passion when “A Comedy of Tenors” opens with preview performances tonight and Thursday before its official run Friday through March 18. The Santa Barbara City College roup will perform playwright Ken Ludwig’s comedy at the Garvin Theatre on the college’s west campus, 900 block of Cliff Drive in Santa Barbara.
“A Comedy of Tenors” is set in a hotel suite in 1930s Paris, and the story involves four tenors, two wives and three girlfriends as they await the concert of the century in a soccer stadium full of screaming fans.
It’s a sequel to Mr. Ludwig’s “Lend Me A Tenor,” which the Theatre Group at SBCC performed some years back.
Santa Barbara actor Justin Davanzo, who was involved for many years in films and plays in Los Angeles, plays two tenors who look alike but who have opposite personalities: temperamental operatic star Tito Mereli and the more likable up-and-coming singer Beppo. Hilarity ensues when Maria (Felicia Hall), Tito’s wife, and Tito have a fight and Maria, in her effort to make up with Tito, mistakes Beppo for him. (Not that Beppo minds the attention of a beautiful woman.)
Mr. Davanzo talked to the News-Press about the differences between Tito, who’s from Rome, and Beppo, who’s from Venice.
“Tito is the greatest opera singer in the world. He’s an emotive diva,” Mr. Davanzo said. “He’s got all these pent-up emotions, including love for his wife.
“Beppo is full of heart, full of love,” Mr. Davanzo said. “He got his start as a gondolier in Venice. He sings really well. And he loves to make people feel good and joyful. He wears his heart on his sleeve.
“He really wanted to go to become an opera star, but instead he became a bellhop in Paris,”Mr. Davanzo said.
Just as the temperamental Tito quits before the big concert in Paris, the show’s producer happens to hear Beppo singing at the hotel.
The producer finds his solution in a great singer who looks exactly like Tito. The fans won’t know the difference!
While the play refers to the producer hearing Beppo singing, Mr. Davanzo won’t actually be singing on stage as either Beppo or Tito.
“I’m not a musical guy,” Mr. Davanzo said. “One of the first things Katie and I discussed is I don’t actually sing.”
But music will be present in “Comedy of Tenors” in a way that’s unexpected for a play. As the actors talk, their dialogue will be supported by recorded operatic music, in much the same way that music is heard during conversations in movies.
The difference is actors on a movie soundstage don’t hear that music during filming.
“It makes it so fun as an actor to get this injection of music that’s very passionate and emotional actually playing,” Mr. Danzano said. He added that the music brings an element of emotion that has a positive impact on the actors’ performance.
Despite the fighting between Maria and Tito, the two characters have deep, passionate love for each other. But things are complicated because Tito has a mistress, a soprano who also falls for Beppo, Mr. Davanzo said.
One question is whether Maria, who mistakens Beppo for Tito, will like Beppo better than Tito.
“That’s a great question,” said Ms. Hall, a Santa Barbara actress who portrays Maria. “There’s a moment in the show where Maria is introduced to Beppo unknowingly, thinking it’s Tito after they’ve had their argument.
“She comes back to mend their relationship and wanting to make things better in a really passionate way, thinking it is Tito and getting a nice surprise in the throes of passion (with Beppo). Maybe there is hope that things will be really good with Tito now, even though it is Beppo,” said Ms. Hall, the artistic director and a founding member of Actor Circle, a local theater company.
In “Comedy of Tenors,” Beppo has a decision. Does he pursue a relationship with Tito’s Italian wife or Tito’s Russian mistress?
“The heart of this play — underneath all this comedy and ridiculousness and doors opening and doors closing, mistaken identities — is love and passion for each other and opera,” Ms. Hall told the News-Press. “Beppo is the symbol of that. He comes into this show with the love of life, love for passion, love of love. He brings the chaos and reminds everyone what it (life) is all about.
“The play is very well written,” Ms. Hall continued. “Just reading it on the page, without hearing anybody speaking the words — it’s hilarious.”
Ms. Hall described her character, Maria, as being larger than life and having great one-liners.
“She is such an empowered Italian woman. She has a lot of heart and puts Tito in his place. It was so much fun to brush off my Italian accent and get to play a woman with strength and humor.
“With comedy, the most challenging part is playing it truthfully,” Ms. Hall said. “You cannot play the fact you know you’re being funny because that kills the joke.”
Ms. Hall praised the writing, cast and director. “I’ve always enjoyed working with Katie.”
Besides Ms. Hall and Mr. Danzano, the cast includes Jean Louis Dedieu as Jacques, Luke Hamilton as Carlo, Isaac Lewis as Max, Sean O’Shea as Henry Saunders, Tiffany Story as Racon and Grace Wilson as Mimi.
And the production crew includes scenic and lighting designer Patricia L. Frank, costume designer Pamela Shaw, sound designer Barbara Hirsch, and production stage manager Alyson Grandle.
“The set designer is someone who always likes getting every architectural detail correct, from the luxurious Parisian hotel room from 1936 with a lot of doors to the look of the Eiffel Tower in the background,” Ms. Laris said. “We really had fun with the costumes, which are all based on the period.”