The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 23, 2012

Redneck Tenors pack house for holidays

By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager

BRANSON, Mo. — Matthew Lord said his secret formula to the "3 Redneck Tenors Christmas Spec-Tac-Yule-Ar" is simple.

"It's Christmas from top to bottom," said the show's creator and director. He performs a role in the show, too. "What I've noticed across the country is that a lot of Christmas shows are a condensed version of the original show with some Christmas songs tossed in."

The "Redneck Tenors" show is all Christmas, but in different ways. Very different ways.

During the show's first half, Billy Joe, Billy Billee and Billy Bob -- three tragedy-tested friends -- set out to help Edna Mae, the widow of Billy Ray, their dear, dead friend and beer-drinking buddy. Billy Ray recently met his maker in an untimely fashion.

"Billy Ray dies in a wood chipping accident," said Lord, suddenly serious. "The guys set to help Billy Ray's love, the beautiful Edna Mae, fulfill her dream."

She and Billy Ray were building their dream trailer before he got mulched. The talented but unassuming friends are soon discovered by the Colonel, a man of questionable character with sorted entertainment connections. The guys get sucked into his scheme on their quest to help Edna Mae.

"All we are doing is trying to raise money to help Edna Mae finish Billy Ray's dream trailer," Lord said. "The beautiful Edna Mae is alone. She runs off in search of her Christmas spirit and we try to chase her down and get her Christmas spirit back."

It's a simple tale. Well, maybe not that simple. That's just the first act. Holiday antics and a gender-bending song and dance number ensue.

"That part was inspired by my daughter," said Lord. "In the movie 'Mean Girls' they do a similar number, and our outfits are exactly like what Lindsay Lohan wears. It's Santa Baby in 6-and-a-half-inch pleather heels."

Lord and his cast of redneck characters are entertaining crowds at the New Americana Theater through Dec. 15 with a New Year's Eve engagement on tap.

Lord leads the cast as Billy Joe; Dinny McGuire plays the Colonel; Alex Bumpas plays Billy Bob; Blake Davidson mullets up as Billy Billee; and Sarah Tweed stars as the Beautiful Edna Mae.

Traditional tunes

All the performers are classically trained singers and actors. In the second half of the show, the tenors' mullets, a longtime secret to the show's success, are shelved. Tuxedos are pressed and the tenors hit the stage with a more traditional, classic Christmas performance.

"The second act is a concert," said Lord, who is the creative force behind the show and a Julliard Opera Center graduate. "It's not all secular music. We have three stools (on stage) and we sing everything from 'Oh, Holy Night' to 'Silent Night' to 'Winter Wonderland.'"

They always close with a number honoring famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

"He's my inspiration for everything that I've ever done," Lord said.

During the group's non-holiday performances, they tackle traditional operatic standards and Broadway favorites from "Phantom of the Opera" to "Les Miserables." Lord is currently writing the fourth show in the "Tenors" series, which will tour 28 weeks next year.

The "3 Redneck Tenors" series has played as well in Las Vegas as it has in Branson. The sincerity of the script and the purity of its characters are key to keeping diverse audiences coming back for each new incarnation of the show. Low-brow jokes and mean humor are not a part of the plan.

"I keep all of the meanness out of all the characters," he said. "They would never take a cheap shot at anyone. It would ruin the show. It doesn't need it. These are characters, and they don't talk like that. There is not a redneck joke in the show."

Lord said the show earns a large number of repeat guests and touts the show's 4.5-star rating on the Trip Advisor website.

"When people write that they don't like the show, they often say that there was corny, hillbilly stuff in it," he said. "My response to that is, 'You came to see "3 Redneck Tenors." What did you expect?'"

Lord considers those type of reviews backhanded compliments.

"When we play major halls across the country, half that audience has never been to the theater before," he said. "They are coming because of the 'redneck' title. I try to make the classical and Broadway music acceptable to everybody in the audience. We have a lot of wives who come up and say if it wasn't for the redneck part of the show their husbands would have never had come.

"They end up loving the show. It achieves what I wanted to do."