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Twelve Tenors supply the energy to ambience-challenged pavilion

The twelve tenors perform opening night May 30 2012 Riverfront Theater 650 W. Chicago Avenue. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

The twelve tenors perform on opening night, May 30, 2012 at the Riverfront Theater at 650 W. Chicago Avenue. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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THe Twelve Tenors


◆ Through June 3 (show times vary)

◆ Riverfront Theater, 650 W. Chicago

◆ Tickets, $35-$90

◆ (888) 556-9484;

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Updated: May 31, 2012 11:05AM

Riverfront Theater, a new spot for live entertainment, owes nearly all its charm to the waterway that rolls along outside. On a warmer evening than Wednesday, when The Twelve Tenors energetically inaugurated the circus-tented space, it’s easy to imagine lolling on the riverside patio that juts off of a small-ish tented pavilion, tiny plastic cup of red or white in hand.

While the vino supply ran dry shortly before Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. curtain, it was almost certainly because beverages were complimentary until intermission. But sorry, folks, that was merely to celebrate opening night. At $6 for wine and the same for domestic beer (a buck more for not-so-fancy imported brew), prices hover right around ballpark levels or lower. Ditto the grub — including Polish sausage and pretzels and a “caprese wrap” for those with more delicate palates.

The asphalt-floored performance venue, decked out for this particular show with twinkly white lights and bathed in mechanized multi-colored ones, is cavernous and rather bare bones. If you don’t pony up for a seat in the center section nearest the stage, which features actual padded chairs with normal-size cushions, expect to wedge yourself into one of the spongy pseudo seats behind them. Though barely roomy enough for someone who’s 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds(ish), they’re a joy compared to the hard plastic benches with hard steel rails.

That’s what Elk Grove residents Tom Nolan and his wife (who politely declined to give her name) got for their $60 tickets, so they moved during intermission. “I would think they’d make some correction,” said Nolan, who nonetheless admired “the setting.”

The sound from their vantage point, he added, was “overwhelming … I don’t know that it’s necessarily the acoustics, but it’s loud.”

Mrs. Nolan then pulled out the tissue wads she had stuffed into her ears.

Overwhelming wasn’t the first audio-related word that came to mind, especially compared to rock concerts. Muddy is more like it. And though the harmonizing, high-fiving, Irish-rooted, occasionally dazzling and relentlessly schmaltzy singers belted show tunes and Sinatra and rock standards and rowdy Irish anthems into wireless microphones, their voices were sporadically squashed by an over-amplified six-piece band.

On the subject of voices, Branden James’ definitely stood out — in a good way. The tenor and California native blew the crowd away with a powerful version of the Neopolitan classic “O Sole Mio” and, later, Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma.” Tim Oxbrow did the late Freddie Mercury proud with Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” and the gloriously blonde-locked Jay McManus step-danced like a maniac, maaaaniac on the floor.

All in all, it was a decent kick-off for a potential-rife destination.

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