Three Filipino Tenors
nytheatre.com review by Kim Wadsworth
June 15, 2007
Tenors are "in." Ever since Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti—the original "Three Tenors"— gave their first concert in 1990, several other such acts have jumped on the bandwagon, including the "Irish Tenors,""Tenor Australis," the "Three Canadian Tenors," the "3 Chinese Tenors," the "Ten Tenors," and even "Three Tenors and a Soprano" (although that feels like cheating, doesn't it?)
East/West Theater's contribution, The Three Filipino Tenors, doesn't stray far from the established formula—a joint concert given by three men (Antoine Reynaldo Diel, Randy Guiaya, and Lito Villareal), with a music selection ranging from classical pieces to Broadway to pop, and a little patter in between. Moreover, while the trio does perform two traditional Tagalog numbers, and each makes intermittent mention of their childhoods in the Philippines, the emphasis for the evening still seems to be solidly on the "Tenors" part of the title and less on the "Filipino" part. I wish I'd heard a little more about each singer—in particular, Villareal relates a tantalizingly brief story about how he was born partially deaf until a miraculous faith healing from a missionary saved his hearing, and presumably enabled him to pursue music. But Villareal doesn't elaborate, and a glimpse is all we get. So, it's not too different from many of the other evenings with three tenors out there.
But one thing these particular three tenors have going for them is chemistry—the trio clearly love working together. I was surprised to learn that they've only been singing together for a year, since a benefit concert for EWP in 2006; they have the kind of rapport and rhythm, and good-natured joshing, that you find among old friends who've known each other for years. It's a rapport that director Tim Dang may want to trust a little more; some of the patter in between the numbers does come off as "scripted" and reliant on corny jokes, but at times the three let themselves really joke around with each other—after the dreadlocked Diel introduced their pop medley by quipping that it was their "American Idol" sequence, Villareal grinned impishly and called him "Sanjaya"—and it's refreshingly fun to watch.
The joshing around carries over to some of the music as well, and wisely so in one number; the three take on one of the more famous entries in the tenors' songbook, the Turnandot aria "Nessun Dorma"—but instead of treating it seriously, they perform with a wink, hamming things up with Dramatic Gestures and the occasional theatrical Mopping Of The Brow. It was just enough sass to puncture the reverence with which others treat this number, and coming as early as it does in the evening, it sets a fun tone. It also underscores how much the team just plain loves singing as well—they take such standards as "Danny Boy" fairly seriously, but in their finale medley, which includes pop hits like "Respect" and "I Will Survive," their enthusiasm was infectious, with the three spontaneously breaking out into Motown-inspired dancing at one point.
These Three Filipino Tenors don't necessarily break new ground in what's becoming a genre, but that's not really what they set out to do anyway—they're just having fun. And it shows.