Watching "The Fabulous Lipitones" by John Markus and Mark St. Germain does not require close attention or profound insight, and that's not a bad thing. This is a show meant simply to entertain, and that it certainly does. A story of three aging men who have just lost the fourth partner in their longtime barbershop quartet, the focus is on the inclusion of a new singer, a much younger fellow from "somewhere in the Middle East". Although there is a certain amount of untangling of pre-conceptions and prejudices toward "Bob", especially from the ersatz leader of the group, Phil, the real focus is on the music, on blending and expanding their repertoire and getting ready to compete in a national championship, where they have been also-rans for many years. What makes the show work is the pure love they all have for the harmonies and familiar melodies of barbershop singing, and the bonds of their longtime partnership.
Opening at the funeral of their partner, it's obvious that these men are each dealing with aging in very personal and immediate ways. While Phil (Jeff Berryman) feels far more fit (he's the owner of a gym) than the others, his own aging cannot be concealed any more than his ill-fitting wig can cover his baldness. Nor can his personal sense of superiority conceal his ignorance toward the new member, Bob (Brad Walker). Wally (John Patrick Lowrie), who lives in the basement room where much of the action takes place, is decidedly unfit and not particularly bothered by it. Howard (Greg Stone) is a much more tidy, decent fellow who is taking care of his invalid wife and always trying to do the right thing. Where these distinct and very different characters find a common bond is in the music, in the numbered entries of their well-worn catalog, in "new" songs that are only twenty or thirty years old, and in the hilariously foreign material Bob brings with him. From the earliest suggestions that it may be time to "wrap it all up" to their final performance at nationals, the sheer love of the music carries each of these men, and this show, forward.
All of the actors are equally talented and convincing. Jeff Berryman brings a confidence and ingrained self-assurance to Phil that makes his recognition of just how wrong he was on many things feel convincing and quietly moving. John Patrick Lowrie gives Wally such a sense of the familiar and commonplace that we can only see him as someone just like ourselves, and he has not a trace of Phil's self-deception. Greg Stone, as Howard, is a seemingly shallow man who actually may have the deepest character of any of them. His relationship with his unseen wife, difficult as it is for him (or at least as it seems to the others) is never in question. As the "foreigner" Bob, Brad Walker had a simple decency and enthusiasm that allowed his "difference" to immediately integrate into the group. This guy was the definition of likeable, and when he faces possible deportation we already know him so well that we would do anything to make sure that doesn't happen. Needless to say, all four of these actors blend seamlessly into the quartet and their musical performance feels natural, filled with history, and confident in ways that none of them could feel individually.
This is a lightweight, thoroughly enjoyable entertainment. The ease with which it can be enjoyed might cover the meticulous craftsmanship with which it is performed. Mark Lund's wonderful set design similarly seems not like a construction, but simply the room in which all this history has happened. Above all, though, the constant of music, the sheer joy of singing together in familiar tunes that they have shared for so many years, the ways in which these men know each other and each other's lives, the balance of individuality and community is what makes "The Fabulous Lipitones" so convincing and such a sheer joy.
PICTURED ABOVE: (L-r) Jeff Berryman, Brad Walker, and John Patrick Lowrie.
PHOTO BY: Erik Stuhaug.