"Comedy of Tenors" moves in fits and starts at Oldcastle

BENNINGTON, Vt. — Ken Ludwig's 2015 "A Comedy of Tenors" is not as perfectly formed as its 1989 companion piece, "Lend Me a Tenor," but it is a breezier, giddier exercise than the choppy, albeit moderately entertaining, affair that tumbles around and through Carl Sprague's expansive hotel suite setting at Oldcastle Theatre Company, where the production opened over the weekend.

"A Comedy of Tenors" borrows four characters from "Lend Me a Tenor" — impresario Henry Saunders (Richard Howe), former general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company; Max (Max Arnaud), his former assistant at Cleveland Grand Opera, now his son-in-law and rising tenor; temperamental opera superstar, tenor Tito Merelli (Peter Langstaff); and his hold-nothing-back but-nonetheless-steadfast wife of 25 years, Maria (Yvonne Perry) — and sets them down in 1936 Paris, where Saunders is producing the event of the century, a concert in the Olympics soccer stadium featuring Merelli, Max and the great Swedish tenor Jussi B rling.

When Bj rling drops out due a family emergency, Max, acting on Saunders' behalf, finds a replacement in Carlo Nucci (Ethan Botwick), an up-and-coming young tenor who is secretly engaged to Merelli's daughter, Mimi (Ana Anderson), an aspiring film actress, but whom Merelli mistakenly believes is having an affair with his wife. With less than three hours before the start of the concert, Merelli stalks out leaving Max and Saunders needing to find yet another replacement. They find one in a hotel bellhop named Beppo (Langstaff), a former Venetian gondolier with a spectacular voice and who, but for a pencil mustache, could be Merelli's identical twin.

Throw in a Russian soprano with whom Merelli had a one-night stand and who now is trying rekindle that passion and you have all the elements of a good, old-fashioned, just-for-the-fun-of-it farce.

Much to its credit, Decker's cast plays to the human, rather than cartoonish, dimension that animates Ludwig's plot and characters. But the timing and rhythms are wildly uneven, investing this production with a hit-and-miss quality as everything hurtles toward a finale that, rather than deliver a tight finish, simply dribbles off.

Langstaff handles the dual roles of Tito and Beppo ably. As Tito's wife, Perry is on solid ground with a buoyant, stylish performance.

As Max, Arnaud lets too many of the sweet opportunities Ludwig affords him slip away. Botwick and Anderson are credible, if also a bit overdrawn, as Carlo and Mimi; and Renata Eastlick is predictable as the amorous Russian soprano, Tatiana Rac n.

Close, as they say, but no cigar.

Each Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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