AISLE SAY New York
THREE MO' TENORS
Conceived, Directed and
by Marion C. Caffey
Little Shubert Theatre / 422 West 42nd Street
Reviewed by David Spencer
In truth, it's almost moot for a theatre critic to "review" a concert evening like Three Mo' Tenors, because while it is certainly, in the strictest sense, a theatrical experience, it is also, on the other hand, an entertainment borne of a slickly and cannily packaged franchise (I mean that as a compliment) that has proven its mettle in various venues. It doesn't have the theatrical agenda, conception or subtext that a revue like, say, Ain't Misbehavin' has. It was devised as a flat out response to the popularity of the original Three Tenors concerts featuring opera stars Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras; and to the fact that they were classically superb but just plain weird to listen to as assayers of contemporary music.
The purpose was to showcase the voices of underappreciated, under-exposed Afro-American vocalists who would be proficient in both opera and contemp. Which is what it does.
And it does so brilliantly.
Which is why you can pop the trademarked name on a New York theatre marquee and pretty much assume you'll do well.
If any of this sounds cynical, I don't mean it to—because the flip side is that we lucky critics wind up getting an invitation to attend this extraordinarily well packaged evening and get to have a helluva good time along with the rest of the audience.
Because the original three tenors used Three Mo' to launch their own concert careers, conceiver-director-choreographer Marion C. Caffey decided to make the concept sturdy enough to survive the loss of any performer who might be featured under its aegis, and the title is tied less to specific singers than to the promise of a certain quality of experience. Currently there are two sets of Three Mo' Tenors (not to play favorites, they are identified as Cast A and Cast 1). And while most of the material they sing is the same (especially medlies and group numbers), some solos differ, from cast to cast, so that each tenor gets to make his individualistic mark within the framework of an otherwise identical program. That program touches more than lightly open opera and classical music, but less than heavily: the strategy seems to be establishing that the boys have legit chops—and then blasting away the veil of concert-hall reserve and "rocking out" (literally and metaphorically) with pop standards (yeah, we're encouraged to clap and sing along; and why not?) and musical theatre selections. And the trio move as well as they sing. Add A-plus lighting and orchestrations and musical direction to the mix and what's not to like?
The night I attended, Cast A was on the bill: James N. Berger, Jr., Duane A. Moody and Victor Robinson. It goes without saying that their voices are superb, but also invigorating is their energy and their hipness. Likewise, they have personalities that shine through the strictures of the formula—with Robinson perhaps having the potential to be a breakout star. The others are terrific, but Robinson—short, compact, charismatic, possessed of laser sharp control and one of those natural, angel-clear voices that make the most difficult passages seem to come with miraculous ease—has that thing that sets him apart. It's a little like seeing Patinkin for the first time, or Lupone (Patti, that is) or Nathan Lane or any of those others who are simply unique forces of nature. (For the record, Cast 1 consists of Phumzile Sojola, Ramone Diggs and Kenneth Alston. I've not seen them [yet?] but it's a sure bet they kick ass too.)
So go, enjoy.
And what do you know? It looks like I could review it after all. Well...the good stuff can be inspiring that way...