BWW Interview: Playwrights Mark St. Germain and John Markus Discuss their New Show, THE FABULOUS LIPITONES
As the cast and crew took a break before their final dress rehearsal, I was fortunate enough to sit down with the director and co-playwrights of the world premiere play with music, "The Fabulous Lipitones," now playing at Theatrical Outfit through April 21st. While director Justin Anderson is one of the most in-demand talents in the Atlanta theatre community, even he would admit that his vitae doesn't quite compare to those of co-playwrights Mark St. Germain and John Markus. Since Markus hired St. Germain to join the writing team on "The Cosby Show" in the 80's, both have achieved a great deal of professional success individually, and if their new comedy is half as insightful and funny as they are, Atlanta theatre fans are in for a one-of-a-kind experience.
An Emmy and Peabody Award winner, Markus, after writing for "Taxi", served as the head-writer and show-runner for "The Cosby Show", co-creator of the show's spin-off "A Different World", and producer of the critically-acclaimed "The Larry Sanders Show." Markus created and currently executive produces the competition series "BBQ Pitmasters" and directed the award-winning documentary "The Kings of BBQ Barbecue Kuwait", now making the film festival circuit (check BroadwayWorld Atlanta next Wednesday for more on Markus' love of BBQ).
After "The Cosby Show", St. Germain has gone on to a career as an award-winning playwright and author. His recent play, "Freud's Last Session" won the inaugural Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best New Play. His newest work, "Dr. Ruth, All the Way" will take the legendary Hartford Stage later this spring. His other plays include "Best of Enemies," "Camping with Henry and Tom" (Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle awards), the Tammy Wynette musical, "Stand By Your Man," amongst many others. He is also the author of award-winning children's book "Three Cups."
Throughout the years, the two have remained friends and occasionally have worked together. "John was in charge of 'The Cosby Show' and he hired me; then he was stuck with me," St. Germain joked.
During our 45 minute conversation, the two quipped off of each other, finishing each others' stories and sentences as only old-friends or comedy writers can. "(Writing this show) was a huge amount of fun. It's very rare you get to work on a project where you just sit and laugh," St. Germain said.
"The Fabulous Lipitones" tells the story of a barbershop quartet in small town America. Following a competition, one of their members unexpectedly drops dead. Frantic to find a replacement before the finals, they settle on Bob, an Indian Sikh. Through song and humor, the newly reconstituted group struggles to find harmony, both vocally and personally.
While the pair has been working on the show for over a year and a half, all of the details weren't always clear. "I'd had this idea forever and I mentioned it to John, except I never knew who the outsider was," St. Germain explained. "John came up with the idea of a Sikh." As if scripted, Markus immediately replied, "I knew if I didn't figure it out, he'd never quit bugging me."
After Markus and St. Germain discussed a long list of potential outsiders to join their quartet, everything seemed to come together when they settled on an individual that would undoubtedly face suspicion and prejudice due to his unfamiliar beliefs and customs. "Once we discovered that element," Markus said, "the story came together quickly."
That story is one that sees four men strive to succeed together, despite differences both seen and subtle. "Each of these individuals, on their own, hasn't done great, but when they do unite, there is greatness that comes from that," Markus explains.
Director Anderson says that the use of barbershop music plays an instrumental role in the group's growth. In barbershop, "no one is there to help you. It's extremely vulnerable." And it is that vulnerability that ultimately leads the group to success.
Markus summed up the sentiment succinctly, by noting, "Harmony is cooperation is understanding."
To get tickets to "The Fabulous Lipitones" call 1-877-725-8849 or visit their website.
Photo Credit: BreeAnne Clowdus
Check out Part Two of my conversation with Justin Anderson, John Markus, and Mark St. Germain; as they discuss lessons learned from Bill Cosby, how "The Andy Griffith Show's" Howard Sprague influenced "The Fabulous Lipitones," and the outreach done to Atlanta's barbershop and Sikh communities.