Written by John Markus and Mark St. Germain, whose previous writing credits include The Cosby Show, The Fabulous Lipitones is a light comedy that deals with deeper issues with the absolute certainty that they can be resolved in 90 minutes. Packed with jaunty musical numbers, sight gags, and puns, The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production has plenty of material to entertain.
The action takes place in the Midwest, where a barbershop quartet of old high school buddies has just become a trio. The show opens, in fact, at the lead singer Andy’s funeral—having “sung his heart out” at their regional competition, Andy has left the quartet without a fourth member for the upcoming finals.
The remaining members of the trio set out to find a new member, although most of their search consists of bickering over whether to continue at all. There’s thrice-married Phil, played with biting sarcasm by Peter Halverson, who thinks they should just give up. There’s mild-mannered Howard, played by Jerry Hoffman—Hoffman succeeds in portraying a few heartwarming moments, particularly when talking about his wife, but at times appears rather stiff on stage. And finally, there’s Wally Smith (John Brown), the successful pharmacist who hasn’t been on a date since Junior Prom.
By chance, a mutual friend sends them a new member by the name of Bob—except that “Bob” (played with great earnestness by Gurpreet Sarin) turns out to be Baba Mati Singh, a 20-something, turban-wearing Sikh Indian. What follows is a clash of cultures, complete with misunderstandings, disagreements, and many stereotype jokes. Most are good-natured, although Phil makes no effort to conceal his bigotry, making at least four “jokes” about terrorists in the first scene. Through their efforts to win the competition, the men end up overcoming some of their prejudices and growing closer together. But despite Sarin’s ability to bring energy and humor to his character, Bob is written not so much as a character but as a device for the other men in the story to learn something new about their lives.
Director Chuck Leonard’s production packs plenty of laughs, but also some pacing issues, and sometimes it feels more like an 80’s sitcom than it does a play. Some of the best moments occur when the characters sing together: music directors Abbie Desrosiers and James Myers, coupled with choreographer Grace Manly Machanic, direct a group of men who will never be the best of the best, but will try their damnedest, and have silly adventures while doing so. Set designer Matt Liptak creates Howard’s man-cave to perfection, complete with wood-paneled walls, nautical décor, a bar, and a wall-mounted deer head. Lighting designer Marzanne Claiborne and sound designer Janice Rivera transform a black curtain into the last breathtaking moments of the final competition, complemented by costume designers’ Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley’s snazzy barbershop outfits.
With the nostalgia offered by the barbershop quartet, with the way that Lipitones manages to spin it, and with some excellent laughs to be had, this production offers a little something for everyone.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
The Fabulous Lipitones plays through May 13, 2017, at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 683-0496, or purchase them online.