Now the Christmas season is complete. After the Baroque mulled cider offered by the Dallas Bach Society, the sumptuous musical feasts set by the Dallas and Forth Worth Symphonies, and the refined champagne presented by the impeccable Orpheus Chamber Singers, someone finally chugged a Christmas brewski and then let out a mellifluous and Texas-sized belch. That would be The 3 Redneck Tenors, who brought their mullets, trailer and outhouse to the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater for five Christmas SPEC-TAC-YULE-AR shows. ("Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the trailer.")
To say that the first half of the show was corny and slapstick is an understatement, but words fail. Compared to the Three Redneck Tenors, the Three Stooges were doing Chekhov and the Marx Brothers were singing Wozzeck, with Margaret Dumont as Marie. No banana peel was unslipped upon. No redneck stereotype left unexploited. They are only missing a pie in the face and a seltzer bottle for drenching. However, it is the very over-the-top nature of the show, combined with exceedingly clever musical arrangements sung by legitimate operatic voices, that makes it work.
How over the top? Well, how about a ballerina dancing a scene from The Nutcracker with a partner in a chicken suit? One number, "Santa Baby," has the three in full drag with hairy chests proudly displayed, doing bumps and grinds and even a moon shot. How about a line something like this: "We don't have very good epicurean skills. That means we don't cook so good…(pause)…or that we can't ride horses." Some of the moments that were improvised to let them interact with the audience went on a bit too long. A director that isn't in the show would help. However, most of it was funny, some were groaners, other jokes are intended to bomb and some of it was hilarious. It is all PG rated, barely, and in good fun.
The first half of the show finds the guys lamenting that they can't find "the lovely Elly Mae" (uncredited in the program) to console her over the loss of her husband/cousin. On this slim plot, they hang a collection of Christmas songs that cover a wide swath, from "White Christmas" and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Each of the guys has a character and they all have the acting chops to pull it off.
There are actually four of them and they have major credits from the likes of the Metropolitan Opera and the Dallas Symphony. Matthew Lord, who is also the writer and director, is the pot-bellied ring leader who tries to keep his companions in line. Blake Davidson, who is really a baritone, is the one who thinks, mistakenly, he doesn't really deserve to be in this crowd and always sports a bemused half smile. Dinny McGuire plays The Colonel, the three tenor's hapless manager. The fact that he, and his sonorous bass voice, was the ringmaster for the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus for decades serves him well here. Alex Bumpas, who also plays the trumpet, steals the show being slow witted, except when he isn't, and child-like. He is a combination of Gomer Pyle and Dennis the Menace; wanting a zebra for Christmas, knows that he is cute and how to work it, and is unable to sit still for an instant.
The second half was completely different. The three guys were in tails, but still in character, and the epicurean horse play was kept to a minimum. This was a good thing, a relief actually, because it showed that the tenors have the good theatrical sense to know when a joke has run its course. The singing was more serious as well. Musically, we heard everything from "O Holy Night" to a Swingle Singers-esque doo wop version of the march from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, sending Bumpas into virtuosic ecstasies.
All these goings-on are greatly enhanced by the musical arrangements of Craig Bohmler. The show is accompanied by a small ensemble made up of an electric piano, a couple of guitars, a percussionist, and an erstwhile violinist. All of the vocal writing is intricate, some of the a cappella sections are wickedly difficult. Everything is excellently written for the voices. As to style, Bohmler never met a key he didn't want to modulate away from or into and his arrangements shift tonalities constantly. This works for most of the music but, in the more serious selections such as "O Holy Night" and the unlikely finale of the tenor anthem,"Nessun Dorma," it just sounded unsettled and like he was constantly adjusting the key to accommodate the range of the singers.
Lord told everyone that beer and wine was for sale at the concession stand during intermission and that we would enjoy the second half even more if we all got "liquored up." This was good advice and juust etactly whut wee kneaded to relly get in tha mude fur some moore sangin'… forgit it… got to go … bed… if I can find it.
◊ Here's video of the Rednecks singing "Nessun Dorma":