By Greg Moylan
alexandrianews.org Theater Review

The Lipitones at the Little Theatre of Alexandria (Photo: Howard Soroos)

For better or for worse, there isn’t tremendous opportunity to experience barbershop quartet music in the DC area (or the 21st Century, if we’re honest). So, if you are craving some serious four-part harmony, The Fabulous Lipitones at LTA has you covered through May 13. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that this musical treasure comes wrapped in an uneven comedy that hits a few sour notes on its way to a generally fun evening.

The show centers around the titular Fabulous Lipitones, a quartet that finds itself short a lead vocalist only days before they are to face their musical rivals, the aptly named Sons of Pitches, in a big competition. As fate would have it, the angelic voice coming through a phone call from one of the Lipitone’s mechanics seems like a gift from God…until they find that voice emanates from the bearded throat of a turban-topped Sikh; thus begins the cultural clash that gives the show its conflict and comedy (such as it is).

The remaining original Lipitones are a trio of 50-something Ohioans who pretty much cover the expected traits of their demographic. Howard (Jerry Hoffman) is a devoted husband to an ailing (and less-than-devoted) wife; Phil (Peter Halverson) is a thrice-divorced loudmouth trying to outrun his age from the treadmill at his health club; and Wally (John Brown) is a pharmacist who still lives with his mother while searching for love in the modern world. The actors are game enough delivering some cringe-worthy dialogue rife with pharmacist-sex puns and “kids these days” bafflement with them newfangled smartphones. They succeed in playing these mostly cardboard characters with good humor and (especially in Brown’s case) a physicality that brings much-needed life to otherwise static staging. The quartet’s completion comes in the form of “Bob” (actor), whose full name, Baba Mati Singh, remains unknown until the dark-skinned “foreigner” shows up to audition for the fourth part.

From this meeting, the script darts rather sharply between “loveable” ignorance and alarming racism, leaving the audience unsure whether we are supposed to be laughing at the racists (in the satirical Archie Bunker tradition) or at the actual racism (Foreign names are funny! Sikhs sport unusual headwear! LOL!). It could be that the current political climate makes the show’s humor darker than intended, but the suspicion Bob faces from the others and the real threat of deportation don’t seem to warrant the laughs they seek. Bob himself seems to take what he later recognizes as outright racism with remarkably good humor, perhaps to teach us all a (sometimes ham-fisted) lesson in tolerance and understanding.

All of this takes place in a wonderfully detailed basement rec room that expertly captures the mood of both time and place, as the hangout of middle-aged Midwestern barbershop aficionados. Credit is due to set designer Matt Liptak, set dresser Jocelyn Steiner and the props team of Leslie Reed and Margaret Snow for the world they created on stage. It would have been great to see the characters interact more with that world, but sadly, they didn’t seem quite at home among their surroundings.

The highlight of the show is, of course, the music. All of the men have beautiful voices, and the music direction by Abbie Desrosiers and James Myers is uniformly excellent. Chuck Leonard’s direction builds the actors’ chemistry nicely, and by the time we reach the final scene (spoiler alert: they sing), the audience is rewarded with the harmony—musical and cultural—that the Fabulous Lipitones need to teach those blasted Sons of Pitches a thing or two.

The Fabulous Lipitones performs Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 3:00 through May 13 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Click here or call the box office at 703-683-0496 for ticketing information.

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