The Fabulous Lipitones, by John Markus and Mark St. Germain. Directed by Monica Bliss. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Richard Wiley, Jr. as Phil, Tony Gubelman as Wally, Joseph Cardoza as Bob, Brian Litscher as Howard; photo: Monica Bliss
"I'm not afraid of those Sons of Pitches."
Brian Litscher and Tony Gubelman; photo: Monica Bliss
"We could have been called The Barbershop Apacolypse," one of the three surviving men in "The Fabulous Lipitones," a barber shot quartet, explains to a prospective new member afer the death of their lead singer. At the dead man's funeral they break into song and find themselves ejected by the widow which only lead to their dejection at their plight. A phone call from a car mechanic gets them started again when one of his workmen can be heard over the phone singing. They audition the man, only find he is a foreigner, a man from the middle east - most likely Pakistan or west India - but over the objections of one of the men the newcomer is hired. The quartet had just won the regionals and are on to the national finals in Reno, but not without a new lead singer.
Bob, or Baba Mati Das, is not an easy fit at first. To begin with he despises the subject matters of the songs traditionally sung by the group. He finds these songs to be sexist, racist, objectionable in every way. His proposed song, a folk tale of a princess transformed through death into a rabbit, has less appeal for the trio. The play concerns itself with the meshing of human backgrounds, the combination of the foreign and the familiar. (They all agree on the fitness of a George M. Cohan medley.)
The play could have been called "Two Funerals and a Mash-up." In this light-hearted comedy there are two deaths, two funerals and a fair amount of middle-aged singing. Most of the tunes will be familiar to most audience members and the vocalizing in this production at the Whit, directed by Monica Bliss, works wonderfully, close harmonies and all.
This is a non-professional company and at least two of the actors had difficulty remembering their lines which made for a very halting first act. Still, the audience responded with good-natured laughter in all the right places. The second act fared better with fewer flubs. The direction was adequate, but not bad, but still missing many opportunities for character development through the physical manifestations of character.
Joseph Cardoza; photo: Monica Bliss
Brian Litscher plays Howard Dunphy, a man with wife trouble, in whose basement the men meet to rehearse. Litscher displays a gentle manner of line delivery that is in good stead with his character who is a gentle soul, devoted to his music and to his straying wife. Litscher presents a sweet picture of a man adapting to difficult situations with a form of grace.
Tony Gubelman plays Wally Smith, a druggist, a single man, a furtive wooer of women once he accidentally sends out the Kama Sutra with its various "positions" to dozens of women he chats with on line. Gubelman is genuinely funny in his earnestness and eagerness to find both a singer and a woman. His outcome on line is not as great as it is in person.
Richard Wiley, Jr. plays Phil Rizzzardi, an antagonistic gym owner who hates the idea of continuing on as a quartet without their friend Andy Lipinsky. Being disagreeable works very well for Wiley and his character is an easy target for the high optimism that surrounds him.
It is the Sikh addition to the group, Bob, played by Joseph Cardozo, who makes a difference in all of their lives creating both hassle and harmony in their haste to hussle to the nationals. Cardozo is wonderfully funny in this role. His eye rolls, his finger gestures and his looks that make him so different from his fellows are perfect realizations of the cultural gulf between Bob and the others.
This is far from a perfect production but its humor seeps through the awkward spots and its second act offers some genuinely delicious moments. As a production it is simple and workable on that non-professional level. Jeff Hunt has lead the quartet through their musical placement and done a nice job and the performance movements has been choreographed experly by Ruslan Sprague.
I had a passing good time with this play. You might also. Just remember, replacing the lead singer has its difficulties, just like the cast does.
The Amazing Lipitonesplays at The Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, MA through August 18. For information and tickets go on line to www.thewhit.org.