If you go to see the Ten Tenors, now performing at the San Diego Civic Theatre, you have to understand something. Yes, their name is a play on the Three Tenors. But don't expect the vocal chops of Domingo, Carreras or Pavarotti.
The trio popularized opera by extending their repertoire into Broadway numbers and pop hits, and that's what the Ten Tenors do as well. But that's about where the similarity ends.
It's not serious opera, and it's not meant to be. The mates from Down Under put on a pleasant and playful show that strives to bridge musical styles and show off the singers' versatility.
The first thing you'll notice is that these guys are young -- the oldest is 34. The Ten Tenors are essentially a classy boy band act. Like other such groups, the members may have been partly hired for their good looks, are portrayed as having various personality types (the bad boy, the goofball, the ham), do some simple synchronized dance steps, and have a marketing machine and formula designed to ensure success. Like prefabricated boy bands before them (Latin American sensation Menudo comes to mind), the Ten Tenors seem to have a revolving-door policy. Maybe when members hit 35 they're given the boot.
At any rate, many of them are classically trained and most seem to have musical theater backgrounds. Each singer tends to have particular strengths, and it quickly becomes apparent what those strengths are. Some have fantastic opera voices but don't quite succeed with the pop rock. Others do pop ballads well but don't solidly hit the opera. Two standouts -- senior member David Kidd (also the oldest) and Stewart Morris -- seem to be the most versatile, blissfully negotiating the landscape of musical genres.
Those styles include opera, swing, musical theater, pop, rock, some Australia folk songs and the ultra-campy "Rawhide." There are opera standards like "Figaro" and "Funiculi Funicula," a graceful original ballad called "Cast in Stone," upbeat numbers like "Sundance" and medleys celebrating the works of the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees. The four-piece band, with its thin, synth-pop sounds, doesn't hold up for the big opera numbers, but the music is mostly accompaniment meant to highlight the singing anyway.
The arrangements are agreeable and at times verge on the sublime. "In My Life" was a beautifully wrought and moving a cappella version of the Beatles' song, and their "Bohemian Rhapsody," the famous pop-rock-opera song by Queen, was rhapsodic. A Bee Gees medley, with Jason Turnbull's powerful falsetto in the lead, was a crowd pleaser. Yet the Tenors didn't seem to maximize the harmonic possibilities of having that abundance of voices. It was a bit disappointing to hear them sing in unison so often. One unfortunate misstep was their version of Paul Simon's "The Boxer," which lost much of the song's feeling and meaning in a too-agitated, truly bizarre arrangement.
But beyond all this, what largely makes the Tenors successful -- and they've played before sold-out crowds across the country -- is their ability to connect with an audience. Some of this is achieved through their good-natured humor that pokes fun of themselves as "young hunks" and as Aussies. They don't take themselves too seriously. The Tenors are Opera Lite and they know it. It's clear that the boys are having a great time on stage, and that sense of fun easily seeps out into the audience.
PROGRAM: The Ten Tenors, "Larger than Life"
Organization: Broadway/San Diego
Dates: Through Sunday
Show times: Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Location: San Diego Civic Theatre, 202 C St., downtown
More information: (619) 570-1100, www.broadwaysd.com