BWW Review: FABULOUS LIPITONES At Theatrical Outfit A Must-See with Humor, Heart
There are few things that are as quintessentially American as the music of a barber shop quartet. The tight harmonies, the classic songs, and the styrofoam red, white, and blue hats conjure visions of small-town Main Streets and smells of popcorn and apple pie. In the world premiere of John Markus (Emmy-winner for "The Cosby Show") and Mark St. Germain's ("Freud's Last Session") play with music, "The Fabulous Lipitones", this slice of nostalgic Americana contrasts with a very modern issue. Directed by Justin Anderson, this delightfully witty play runs through April 21st at Atlanta's Theatrical Outfit, and is a must-see for all theatre fans interested in highly entertaining new work.
In the play's opening moments, the leader of barber shop group, the Fabulous Lipitones, dies at the end of a regional championship-winning performance. With just a week before the national competition, the surviving members, all exceptionally different men, frantically search for a replacement, before stumbling upon the naive, but pitch-perfect "Bob" (Daniel Hilton). Other than the fact that he has never before sung barber shop straight-tone, the only issue with Bob is that he is an Indian Sikh. This outsider, with his turban and provincial folk songs, stirs the already tumultuous relationships of his new group-mates, highlighting fears and prejudices they'd long ignored.
The show's small cast features simply four of the best working actors in Atlanta. Theatrical Outfit Artistic Director and two-time Suzi Award-winner Tom Key plays the buttoned-up accountant Howard, William S. Murphey (another two-time Suzi winner) plays the arrogantly bronzed gym-owner Phil, and Suzi-winner Glenn Rainey rounds out the original Lipitones as pharmacist Wally, who has seen a marked increase in his social life as of late. Hilton plays Bob with a wide-eyed innocence that instantly makes him the heart of the show. All four men deliver individually strong, but very different performances. However, much like the music they sing on stage, when they come together, they form a harmonic unit that thrills and surprises.
Anderson's direction keeps the show moving briskly, but finds a way to take time to nurture the shows more poignant moments. Some of the best acting in the show is done when neither a word is spoken, nor a note sung. Anderson and the playwrights deserve credit for presenting an honest representation of a character with beliefs that will be unfamiliar to the majority of audiences. In a theatrical climate where unknown religions can be used as comedic fodder, the sensitivity and authenticity given to this religion that preaches tolerance and equality is commendable.
Additionally, Musical Director Michael Monroe, a Suzi-winner in his own right, does an excellent job in arranging the show's public domain songs into versions that allow the actors to sound like a group that has been singing a capella music together for 20-plus years. With their set and costume designs, sisters Isabel A. and Moriah Curley-Clay (another set of two-time Suzi winners) show why they are the most sought-after designers in town. Howard's basement and the Lipitones national championship costumes are nearly worth the price of admission on their own.
Knowing the writers' background, I couldn't help but compare "Lipitones" to the sitcoms of a bygone era, when television comedies were as much about heart as they were humor; i.e. "The Andy Griffith Show," "Happy Days," and of course "The Cosby Show." The jokes in "The Fabulous Lipitones" were fast and plentiful, but I don't believe that the Atlanta version of the show will be the final one. I would imagine that Markus and St. Germain will continue refining the script, eliminating the handful of jokes that fell flat, until the show opens at Connecticut's famed Goodspeed Opera House in May. St. Germain also told me that "Lipitones" has sparked interest from producers eyeing an eventual New York run.
The world premiere of "The Fabulous Lipitones" runs an hour and a half, and plays the Balzer Theater at Herren's through April 21st. To purchase tickets, call (678) 528-1500 or visit Theatrical Outfit's website.
Check out Broadway World Atlanta on Friday to read about how United States Senator Al Franken led to Markus' current television show, "BBQ Pitmasters."
Photo: William S. Murphey, Tom Key, Glenn Rainey, Daniel Hilton
Photo Credit: BreeAnne Clowdus