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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review: ‘The Fabulous Lipitones’ fun at George Street Playhouse

lips

Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney       Friday, November 21, 2015 at 8 pm

There's an old show biz adage: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” But in this case it might well be “Dying is easy, singing barbershop with just three voices is hard.” THE FABULOUS LIPITONES starts out with the funeral of Andy, whose surviving Lipitone cronies take the stage to mourn him by crooning “After You've Gone.” After that, the comedy comes quite easily in this new play with music by John Markus and Marc St. Germain.

Most of the play takes place in the basement rec room of Howard (Jim Walton), who's ailing off-stage wife Mavis is his main concern. Wally (Wally Dunn) optimistically wants the troupe to audition a new member – and hopefully get back on stage to win the upcoming big competition. Wally's got a woman in his life, too – his elderly mother. Druggist Wally's constant companion is his iPhone, and he's eagerly signed-up for a new online dating site exclusively for pharmacists looking for their ideal 'pharmacette'.

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Phil (Donald Corren) isn't quite as anxious to find a fourth, preferring to devote his energy to his successful gym and tanning salon. Besides, he isn't so sure the Lipitones can beat the Sons of Pitches, let alone the High Colonics, a rival group from (where else?) New Jersey. Enter Bob (Rohan Kymal), a possible replacement who musically sounds ideal – but physically might not fit the bill. You see, Bob's full name is Baba Mati Singh. Initially, the main concern seems to be whether Bob's turban will fit under his straw hat - but that soon gives way to more ominous misgivings.

If the above description garnered a few good natured groans just by reading it, you have a pretty good idea of the kind of humor that drives THE FABULOUS LIPITONES. The play often seems to operate on sitcom logic – especially when it comes to cell phones. When Bob's race comes into question, the play almost feels like a visit to Archie Bunker's living room circa 1979. Post 9/11 concerns fuel some questionable humor that feels a tad dated more than 13 years later. But the play's tone is suddenly jolted unconsciously into the present when Bob is revealed to be an illegal immigrant facing deportation. Coincidentally, THE FABULOUS LIPITONES opened just 24 hours after President Obama spoke to the nation on live television about immigration reform. Onstage, Bob decides that the American dream may be just that – a dream.

The Fabulous Lipitones GSP 11-14 107But that doesn't mean that all doesn't end happily – there's still the big competition and this is, after all, a comedy. Despite some creaky conventions, there's no denying that Markus and St. Germain have a knack with funny turns of phrase. When Bob compares barbershop to Doo Wop, Phil quips “Doo Wop is dead; we're extinct.” The play is chock full of such wry observations and they are expertly delivered by the talented cast, all of whom are just as adept at comedy as with musical comedy. Speaking of which, if barbershop harmonies evoke instant memories of “The Music Man,” a framed show poster on the set silently acknowledges its contribution.

The other main delight of the evening is of course the music itself. In addition to some barbershop standards, there are new tunes by St. Germain and Randy Court. And to answer another nagging question you may have, yes – the name 'Lipitones' does have an oblique connection to the much-advertised cholesterol drug. But to discover just what that link is you'll have to see THE FABULOUS LIPITONES.

The show is a fun, musical celebration of comedy and a loving tribute to the dying art of the barbershop quartet. And as the dearly departed Andy might attest, “Dying is easy, singing four part harmony is hard.”

THE FABULOUS LIPTONES continues through December 14th at George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. For tickets and information visit www.gsponline.org or call732-246-7717

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Photos: 1: Wally Dunn, Jim Walton and Donald Corren; 2: Rohan Kymal, Jim Walton, Donald Corren and Wally Dunn; 3; Jim Walton, Donald Corren, Rohan Kymal and Wally Dunn (Photos by T. Charles Erickson)

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