MANILA -- After leaving its comfort zone and stumbling with its limp production of “Hair,” Repertory Philippines returns to familiar territory and regains its fine comedic form to kick off its 81st season with Ken Ludwig’s “A Comedy of Tenors.”
This is the sixth play by Ludwig that Rep has produced, including this play’s predecessor “Lend Me A Tenor,” which originally starred Miguel Faustmann as the famous opera singer Tito Mirelli. This time, he’s directing and his familiarity with the characters could only ensure spot-on hilarity. Indeed, Faustmann has become Rep’s go-to director when it comes to farces, having guided many of the company’s well-received comedies such as “Boeing Boeing” and last season’s “The Game’s Afoot” (also written by Ludwig).
But audiences need not be familiar with “Lend Me A Tenor” to enjoy this sequel, which is set in Paris in 1936. Impressario Henry Saunders is back to stage “the concert of the century” (think Three Tenors) and his star, Mirelli, is struggling with insecurity in the face of the up and coming Carlo Nucci.
Thing’s get worse for Mirelli when he “catches” his wife Maria with Nucci and suspects that they are having an affair. Moreover, Saunders announces that Nucci has agreed to be a last-minute replacement when one of the tenors begged off to attend to a family tragedy. With just hours before the show, Mirelli suddenly quits.
Fortunately, Saunders and his son-in-law Max (the third tenor in the concert) discover an opera-loving bellhop with an uncanny resemblance to Mirelli. Add a Russian soprano who turns out to be Mirelli's former flame and what you have is a madcap comedy of errors and mistaken identities.
Rep artistic director Joy Virata in her program notes admits that Ludwig is “one of our favorite playwrights.” And “A Comedy of Tenors” is the kind of material that Rep does best — foreign accents and all.
Faustmann rounded up Rep reliables led by Jeremy Domingo, Noel Rayos and Lorenz Martinez who once again displayed good comic timing. Martinez, in particular, playing the dual roles of Mirelli and the bellhop, is mostly a hoot with his Italian accent, although some of his monologues were overstretched.
Making her Rep debut in this production is actress-host Issa Litton as Mirelli’s wife but you wouldn’t know it as she seamlessly blended in with this fine ensemble. Litton brought a believable sexy cougar edge to her character with just the right amount of wacky to fit the overall vibe of the play.
Another actor making his Rep debut is Arman Ferrer. Although he has won raves for his performances in the musicals “Mabining Mandirigma” and “Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag,” this is his first straight play — and in English at that.
For the most part, Ferrer managed to keep up with his veteran co-actors but what he truly brings to the table is a genuine operatic background. This tenor is the real deal and while Martinez is certainly no slouch in the vocal department, even the most casual theatergoers would easily notice the difference.
When Martinez, Ferrer and Rayos launched into a performance of “Libiamo” from “La Traviata,” Ferrer, without much effort, stole that scene.
Such musical numbers (other popular tenor arias were used in the play either performed live or recorded) are welcome bonuses to an otherwise old-fashioned screwball comedy that Rep is known for. “A Comedy of Tenors” is an entertaining fast-acting stress-reliever for those looking for a relaxing time at the theater.
As Virata reminds theatergoers in her notes: “Laughter is the best remedy for all kinds of troubles!”
“A Comedy of Tenors” runs at Onstage in Greenbelt 1, Makati City until February 18.