Edinburgh Fringe 2010
David Fauld’s well researched piece offers an insight into the complex character of Mario Lanza, arguably one of the greatest tenors of his day and an early example of what is now known as a crossover artist who did much to popularise operatic singing, acting as an inspiration to at least one of today’s top tenors.
Mario Lanza was an iconic tenor and Hollywood movie star who packed more into his short life of 38 years than many manage in twice that life span. Prone to bouts of over-eating and too close a relationship with alcohol, he was a difficult individual to handle, famously walking out during the filming of The Student Prince which led, ultimately, to his sacking by film giants MGM. Despite a much heralded comeback, he never really recovered from this humiliation and a died from a heart attack in the spring of 1959.
Given that Lanza had a voice that many felt superior to that of Caruso, David Faulds set himself a real challenge in charting his life, full as it was with pathos, tragedy, comedy and moments of pure farce such as his MGM demise. To start with, Faulds is an excellent tenor, hitting that oft elusive top C with alacrity as well as exhibiting a range, tonality and timbre that was more than strong enough for the venue. Add to that his excellent characterisation – accent, swagger, physicality, that sense of hubris and volatile temperament that you often find with those whose personalities are borderline (or even over the line) narcissistic – and you have the main ingredients for what was a fine piece of theatre.
The piece pivots around the moment that Lanza is in his hotel suite receiving his comeuppance from the bigwigs at MGM and plots his rise from the streets of Philadelphia, being spotted by the movie mogul, becoming a major recording artist, hitting the skids with MGM and that all too rapid decline and fall. And whilst he is Lanza for most of the time, Faulds is comfortable when playing cameos of those who had an impact on the tenor’s life and career.
This is an extremely well researched piece of musical theatre and employs an excellent range of Lanza’s work as a means of illustrating just why he attained such iconic status as well as giving Faulds the opportunity to remind us that he too has a fine voice. And Faulds engages very well with his audience drawing them into the story and creating an empathy with a man who was, by all accounts, capable of making these modern day opera divas seem like pussycats. The atmosphere of the piece was visibly enhanced by a carefully created set, featuring a backdrop of news cuttings and posters from the great man’s career, his ill-fitting costume from The Student Prince and many other artefacts that were a part of Lanza’s life, including of course, the demon drink.
There was a brief moment when piano accompanist and singer parted company during The Donkey Seranade, but, that aside, this was a show with some top drawer singing fitted nicely around an interesting and imaginatively told story. Well worth a visit in my view and judging from the animated chatter as they left, the audience thought so as well. And it’s their view, at the end of the day, that really counts.