Backstage at the opera, it turns out, is not so far removed from backstage Broadway. People the green room with a handful of likeable, interesting characters, intertwine their tales and mix with humor, and you get “The Second Tosca,” a warmly entertaining and very funny comedy by Tom Rowan.
Lisa Duvall (Rachel de Benedet) is the second Tosca, which is to say the understudy for visiting diva Gloria Franklin (Vivian Reed). Lisa has little to do other than prepare for the “family performance” — unless the famously high-strung Gloria pulls a no-show.
Lisa’s fiance is maestro Aaron Steiner (Mark Light-Orr), who wants to conduct her every mood; her brother Stephen (Carrington Vilmont), a dancer whose career was cut short when he fell from a bar (and not a barre), serves as manager. (His cell phone ring tone gets two large laughs.)
Rowan rounds out the cast with an Eve Harrington-type soubrette (Melissa Picarello) attached to Gloria; a Juilliard composer (Jeremy Beck) trying to attach himself to Lisa; an old-time opera singer (Eve Gigliotti) determined to be remembered; and a matter-of-fact assistant stage manager from the theater world (Tug Coker) who inevitably turns out to be the hero.
Most of the characters are overly familiar types. Rowan duly uses them to build his operatic house of cards, but, as the action progresses, he slyly gives each a surprising twist. This makes them (or at least six of the eight) endearingly human. The playwright then skillfully ties the characters together in an unexpected, highly satisfying ending.
Center stage and central to the play’s success, de Benedet (recently seen in Chris Durang’s “Adrift in Macao”) is a charming and very winning comedienne, portraying the undiva-like but knowing star-to-be. Reed costars with a toothsome performance as the diva. Gigliotti, from the opera world, does most of the singing (although Rowan has a surprise in store for her as well). Vilmont and Beck each provide several moments of high comedy, while Coker grounds the show as the “civilian” among opera folk.
Director Kevin Newbury does a fine job with his eight players (plus one canine), each of whom has a moment or two in the spotlight. Given the cramped stage, this takes some doing; the script calls for a utilitarian green room, a not especially lavish star dressing room, and a stage manager’s desk visible in the offstage wing. Newbury and designer Charlie Corcoran manage to fit it all in.
Costume designer Joanne M. Haas pitches in, too. Considering the obvious budget constraints, producer Sorrel Tomlinson has come up with first-rate contributions from her entire cast and crew.
Nonetheless, “The Second Tosca” is way too long; there’s a full 25 minutes that can, and should, be trimmed. A weaker play would have been altogether scuttled by the 70-minute first act. It’s to the credit of Rowan and Newbury that they are able to maintain interest, but this breezy comedy should breeze along.
At the performance reviewed here, the second act was almost defeated by the lack of air conditioning. But, despite the play’s length and the heat, not a soul was seen walking out.
Now that the play is up harvesting laughs, the author should sharpen his blue pencil. But even in present shape, Rowan and his “Second Tosca” have obvious potential.