BWW Reviews: THE FABULOUS LIPITONES Bring Back Barbershop at the Colony

The Fabulous Lipitones/by John Markus & Mark St. Germain/directed by John Markus/Colony Theatre, Burbank/through August 23

In its California premiere The Fabulous Lipitones by John Markus and Mark St. Germain sounds like a silly promo for an overrated sexual enhancement product and with its initially corny lines could easily fall into the category of 'sitcom onstage' comedy, but thank heavens it rises far above and beyond. Lipitones is a deliciously funny and substantially reflective take on what might happen if a traditional barbershop quartet inducted a culturally un...suitable replacement. Now onstage at the Colony Theatre, Burbank, Lipitones will make you laugh your pants off and also make you think about the true meaning of harmony!

Let's begin! You see, longtime tenor Andy has passed away and the group is considering the possibility of closing up shop. After all, who sings barbershop anymore? It's a dying art. Remember The Buffalo Bills and "Lida Rose" of Meredith Willson's The Music Man? If the answer is no, you have some finely tuned digging ahead. They were a barbershop quartet - four men with perfect harmony. But the songs they sang are by and large very old - hummable, yes, but forgettable: "Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie", "After You've Gone" or "Grand Old Flag". Anyway, remaining members Howard (John Racca), Wally (Steve Gunderson) and Phil (Dennis Holland) admire Bob or Baba Mati Singh's (Asante Gunewardena) vocal ability, it's just that he's from Afghanistan, or is it India? To avoid the label "illegal", his auto-shop boss has been resigning him up for employment every 6 months under a different alias and country. If anyone squeals, he'll be deported, and Phil might just have dropped the bomb, as he's the most opposed to Bob joining the group. Each of the three guys has an issue of his own to contend with. Phil owns a fitness gym and is about to be ousted by younger co-management, who find oldsters sexually unappealing; Wally is a pharmacist more into getting a date with his female "pharmacettes" than into filling prescriptions; only Howard is the most devoted, as he is taking care of a sick wife who once left him for another man. Hardly saints, these men must learn to compromise and adapt their feelings to Indian Bob.

Bob, by the way, does not at all understand their choice of songs. "I'm Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" or "I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad" give him a horrible image of Americans as he interprets the lyrics literally. His culture will not allow him to accept anyone or anything caged and certainly not a woman who marries her father. Funny, funny misunderstandings concocted by Markus and St. Germain! Bob admires Howard for his devotion to his wife, and when she dies, everyone rallies ... even Bob, who still has not been arrested by the feds. One terribly amusing sight gag is Bob's turban that he somehow manages to reduce in size to fit under the boys' costumed straw hats. I won't spoil the ending. You'll just have to go and see for yourselves.

Under Markus' steady, even direction, the cast is harmony personified. Holland, of course stands out as racist Phil, with the loudest mouth, but Racca and Gunderson also have delightful moments alone as well as together. Gunewardena as Sikh Bob steals the hour, as it at long last seems that he was born to sing barbershop. He not only loses his annoying vibrato, but manages to teach the others a thing or two about changing style to attract an audience. Watch for his exhilarating dance moves!The music these four make is pure joy. David Potts has designed a wonderful basement set in Howard's home and there's even a circular curtain added to the stage for some nice effects. Dianne K. Graebner's colorful costumes are a knockout. Check out the jackets in the top photo!

If The Fabulous Lipitones sounds funny, it is, but not for the reasons you think. There are lots of surprises here, making the unpredictability of this comedy shine the brightest. Bravo to the Colony once more for coming up with such an imaginative and entertaining piece of theatre! Bravo also to John Racca for being the trouper that he is, as he sustained a leg injury a week ago and went on with a cane, performing at top level as if nothing had happened.

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From This Author Don Grigware