In 1959, a few months before his death, Lanza (GaVoian) is giving a press interview in his dressing room between concert performances. Speaking directly to the theater audience as, GaVoian chronicles Lanza’s life in story and song.
The text, by GaVoian and director Joseph Fraley, touches the highlights: his boyhood in South Philadelphia, his experiences in the Army, his prodigious appetites for food and sex, his troubled marriage, the problems with obesity, the rise and fall of his film career.
However, despite the interesting revelation of Lanza’s fixation on Enrico Caruso and the veiled inference that gangster “Lucky” Luciano might have had a hand in his demise, one is no closer to knowing or understanding Mario Lanza at end than at the beginning.
GaVoian never becomes the larger-than-life man he is portraying. Under Fraley’s direction, he is allowed to wander nervously and, at times, aimlessly about the stage, and the dialogue stops when he eats, pours wine, puts on makeup , etc. But when the music starts, GaVoian certainly does honor Lanza’s reputation as an operatic tenor. He doesn’t try to duplicate Lanza’s lightness and soaring lyricism; GaVoian’s timbre is deeper and grittier. He is a dramatic tenor and actually might outdo Lanza in his ability to communicate the darker undertones of the operatic material: Puccini’s “E lucevan le stelle” from “Tosca” and the wrenching “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.”
The dressing room set design by Victoria GaVoian and Robert E. Fraley is decorative but not very serviceable: The actor keeps having to turn his back on the audience to conduct much of his onstage business. And the uncredited sound design could use some adjustment.