LA Theater Scene: Mannequin Man by Day, TENOR BY NIGHT a wonderful original musical

REVIEW: “MANNEQUIN MAN BY DAY, TENOR BY NIGHT” is a new fantasy musical that has a lot of things going for it. The very original story is funny and clever, framed by a wonderful melodic score with songs that soar, and some sassy ones too. And there’s the feel-good backstory of how this show is a dream come true for Chinese immigrant James Chiao.

 The heartwarming “Tenor by Night” musical was presented at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood for six performances, on September 22, 23, 25, and 26.

Tenor By Night star Kevin Gino & composer James Chiao (center) photo by Margie Barron

 It was the perfect venue for the show’s creator, composer and director James Chiao to showcase this joyful musical. There’s not a dull moment in the story with singing, dancing, and even “magic.” It harkens back to the golden era of Broadway classics. Yet it feels contemporary as well. It’s the best of both worlds.

 Folks who enjoyed the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians will love the crazy story inspired by Chiao’s real life as an immigrant turned Chinese-American family man. He built the successful CNL Mannequins business, yet desired a career in music. Now his passion has been transformed into a Broadway-quality musical. Chiao’s personal journey got some fun twists and great original music, with a touch of familiar opera arias adding to the classy production.

 Tenor By Night has some drama when the wife kicks her husband out of the house, and he moves to his place of business, a warehouse where the mannequins become his audience as he practices being a great tenor.  There’s comedy and mystery in the show too, with the help of a magician who brings the party-loving mannequins to life.

 Starring in the show as “The Tenor” is Kevin Gino. He is a fantastic singer and actor. One of his show-stopping moments is when he sings the familiar aria from Figaro with clever lyrics that reflect the Tenor By Night story.

 The show features all professional performers, 20 actors, singers and dancers, along with a live 14-piece orchestra. The outstanding cast includes Benjamin Perez, Allison Aoun, Thursday Lyons, Mark Curtis Ferrando, Karlton Wallace, Alexandra Mitchell, Timothy Heart, Lauren Han, Alice Ko, Andrea Somera, Chad Takeda, Mary Au, Stefan Alexander Miller, and Junru Wang, plus dancers and more talent in the ensemble.

 The production values are also top notch, along with the orchestra lead by Charles Fernandez, music director/arranger. It’s a big musical with all original music with some embedded snippets of familiar arias in some songs.  There are some tunes similar to the traditional type found in classic Broadway musicals such as South Pacific.

Among Tenor By Night’s songs are “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” that women of all ages will love; “What a difference a mannequin makes,” about the hard work and success experienced by the Asian-American lead character; and “Keep Your Day Job,” about pursuing your dreams, even when others tell you “keep your day job.” 

 Chiao is breaking new ground presenting the first major U.S. musical composed by a Chinese-American. “As the creator of the show, I’ve been concentrating on making the show as great as I can. I would like to see it touring to other theaters across America for audiences to enjoy.” And with some polishing of the minor rough edges of the show that is sure to happen for the very entertaining original musical. 

 TENOR BY NIGHT showcased Saturday, Sept. 22 to 26 at the For upcoming shows call (818) 508-4200, and visit the historic El Portal Theatre box office located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood CA.

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.