Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and the late Luciano Pavarotti started the Three Tenors concept with a concert at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome to celebrate the World Cup finals back in 1990. Various tenor trios — Irish, Australian, Chinese, you name it — have been circling the globe since. “Three Mo’ Tenors” — with the emphasis on “Mo'” — has been playing in different guises since 2000 and now makes it to Off Broadway’s Little Shubert.
This is not theater, but a theatricalized concert. One fellow comes on and sings a song, then another and another; sometimes there are solos, sometimes duets or trios. Two different threesomes alternate performances in New York, reportedly due to the demands of singing eight shows a week. At the preview attended, it was cast A: James N. Berger Jr., Duane A. Moody and Victor Robertson.
Berger scores with “Let’s Get It On,” while Moody impresses with the spiritual “Noways Tired.” Most dynamic of the bunch is Robertson, a diminutive bundle of energy with the sweetness (though not the vocal style) of Bobby Short.
Evening starts with the trio singing “La donna e mobile” from “Rigoletto,” after which each of the boys does a classical spot. After a couple of numbers tailored to the “Three Mo'” theme — one from “Jelly’s Last Jam,” one from “Five Guys Named Moe” — they round out the first act with mostly showtunes (including “‘Bring Him Home” from “Les Miz” and a not-very-convincing rendition of “Being Alive” from “Company”). Curtain comes down on the first act with an exuberant sing-along to “Minnie the Moocher,” complete with zoot suit.
Song lineup differs according to cast, with the tenors singing their personal specialties. (One of the men in cast A chooses Steve Lawrence’s “I’ve Gotta Be Me.”) Second stanza is less variable, consisting mostly of a series of medleys: Ray Charles medley, Queen medley, soul medley, etc.
Musical styles run the gamut of opera, Broadway, jazz, blues, soul, spiritual and gospel. Keith Burton accompanies from a downstage piano throughout, playing alone on most of the classical songs. He is joined by four pieces behind the scrim for the contemporary numbers.
Director Marion J. Caffey stages his tenors with flair, at least between the songs. Set is a simple platform with steps and an upstage platform behind a scrim; costumes are mostly tuxedos with vests and a bit of dressing (plus that zoot suit). Sound is a big detriment, with the voices blasting out of control. These guys have big, operatic voices, which would be far more enjoyable without the electronics; do they really need to be miked in a 499-seater?
The “Three Mo'” franchise was started by Caffey with singers Victor Trent Cook, Rodrick Dixon and Thomas Young in the title roles. Producer Willette Murphy Klausner soon joined up, and the group received much exposure courtesy of a 2001 PBS showing. Performers and management thereafter split acrimoniously, leaving Klausner and Caffey with rights to the title; Cook, Dixon and Young still perform together in the three tenor format, presumably with more star power than any of the six tenors alternating at the Little Shubert.
There is certainly an audience hereabouts for the show; once the performers get to the second-act soul and blues sections, patrons are singing and whooping and dancing along. This affair is perhaps not for traditional theater auds. But “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” ran for six years, and with canny marketing, “Three Mo’ Tenors” should find patrons to fill its announced four-month stint and perhaps more.