TENOR BY NIGHT
As my friend Jeanine said of the World Premiere of this fun new musical, it’s quite the experience! So much so that I almost don’t even know how to describe it to you. Even though, being completely honest here, I recognize its flaws, I enjoyed every moment of it.
Let me tell you, Tenor By Night does not leave even one stone unturned! This show has absolutely everything: music, comedy, drama, mystery, singing, dancing, an evil magician, acrobats, an unbelievably stunning hand balancing act, a bit of three beautiful famous operas, and even a mannequin fashion show and singing luggage!!! I could not catch my breath between the many surprises.
The show can best be classified as a musical fantasy, which was inspired by the real life of playwright/composer James Chiao, who wrote both the book and the songs. Quite an achievement, especially for this being his first time at either art!
Jeanine and I met James before the show, (because he so pleasantly walked around the lobby in a jacket-less tuxedo and greeted everyone possible,) and he’s adorable. So happy and enthusiastic. And his speech after the curtain call was equally charming. You can’t help but root for this man. I only wish that he had also sung for us a bit!!! (Maybe, after reading this, he’ll do it for the final two shows this week!)
So, I’ll let you discover the fictional tale for yourselves, but the true story it’s based on is that James and his wife came to SoCal from China, and while he owned a successful mannequin-making company, he practiced his opera singing at night. The show kind-of makes jest of all that, but in real life, James went back to school at the age of sixty-five and got an MFA in music! (Which proves, once again, that it’s never too late for many things in life.) That’s where he began his journey with the writing of the songs for this show.
I have to tell you that I almost passed on seeing Tenor by Night, (which would have been a shame for me,) because it’s full title is Mannequin Man By Day, Tenor By Night, and I’m sort-of terrified of mannequins! I went to its opening night solely because I knew it was important to somebody that I be there. But when I was very little, I saw a scary TV show about mannequins that literally scarred me for life. So not only did I have to face my fears to see this show, but there was a giant mannequin head on stage for the duration, which creeped me out more than a little bit.
But the musical is sooo entertaining that I kept forgetting the head was there, and I’m so glad I saw it because the entire audience loved Tenor By Night! And several among us were not shy about loudly commenting on the story…as it went along! (That actually made it even more fun somehow.) Jeanine told me the next day that she kept “thinking of funny things in the writing,” as did I.
Part of that mirth is because several of the songs are very clever. For example, Keep Your Day Job is actually a line that a stranger said to the author when he was singing in Yosemite, and in turn is what made James write this whole show to begin with!
The three main actors, Kevin Gino, Lauren Han, and Andrea Somera, all have beautiful voices. When I heard Kevin sing tiny pieces of three famous opera classics, such as La Donna e Mobile from Rigoletto, I didn’t want him to stop! (And I do not usually even like opera!)
The absolute highlight of the show for me is Junru Wang, the surprise hand balancer in the second act. I’ve never seen anything like her so up-close and personal, and I was even in a circus myself! (Don’t ask.) I found myself wildly applauding for her, like a little kid. I loved, loved, loved that number! How refreshing to see something as spectacular as that included in a musical! And also how lucky for this musical to have a former Cirque du Soleil performer, (and China’s Got Talent winner!,) come out and do this for them! I guarantee that you’ll be as wowed by Junru as I was. [Note: I hadn’t read the program yet, so while she was performing, I did not know about her winning CGT. But the whole time I was watching her, I kept thinking that she has got to be on America’s Got Talent next year! You know that I’ll be voting for her!]
And let me tell you how lucky we are to have this new musical in the very comfortable El Portal theatre! It has the look of a big-budget show, beginning with the beautiful luxurious programs, and continuing throughout the entire presentation, from the very many interesting costumes to the size of the ensemble to absolutely everything we see on that stage, and most notably, to the wonderful orchestra made-up of a baker’s dozen of all excellent musicians, along with their conductor, Charles Fernandez; their perfect touch really brings all the music to life.
There is one confusing element to the show, though. The characters of James and his wife Lily make mention of the fact that they’ve been married for thirty years, but they both look like they’re only thirty-years-old! Now that you know about it in advance, I advise you to just go with it, and not get distracted by that one thing.
Aside from that bit, which actually just made me smile, there is only one tiny weakness with the entire production, and that is that the cast is not the best dancers, which is highlighted by the simplest choreography I’ve ever seen in a show of this magnitude. But I was struck by just how graceful all of the ladies’ hand and arm movements are. Some more accomplished dancers lack that beauty, so I was very pleased to see it here.
I do have to admit that it takes a minute to get into it, but Tenor By Night is an easy, uncomplicated show, which I love because it’s so easy to follow. And there’s no pain involved.
At times it reminded me of Sing, (which is a very fun theatrical competition that’s done in most New York City high schools,) which I totally mean as a compliment. I was always a choreographer and dancer in it, and it’s a welcome and warm memory for this charming show to have given me.
One important (to me) note about the El Portal–I always have a soft spot for this theater because it’s where I met Adam Lambert so many years ago. (And I can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to still know him ever since then!) So, just walking in the doors is fun for me.
I was really hoping that Tenor By Night would get extended, but since that’s not a possibility right now, you have only two more nights to see it here in LA. So I heavily suggest you do yourselves a favor and go tonight or tomorrow. And don’t look away for even one moment or you will miss something!
Tenor by Night running through September 26, 2018 The El Portal Theater 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood 818-508-4200 www.tenorbynight.com