“Our music is less popular than Gregorian chants,” complains Phil (played by Donald Corren), during the course of “The Fabulous Lipitones,” a new musical by Mark St. Germain (“Freud’s Last Session,” “Camping With Henry and Tom”) and John Markus (TV’s “The Cosby Show” and “Taxi”) that is at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick through Dec. 14.
“Doo-wop is dead; we are extinct,” Phil says at another point.
You see, gym owner and would-be playboy Phil is a member of a London, Ohio barbershop quartet, and therefore part of a seemingly antiquated tradition with an abundance of corny quirks. These are guys who wear matching, brightly colored vests and straw hats and smile broadly as they belt out “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” You don’t get to be cool, or famous, or popular with the opposite sex by being part of a barbershop quartet.
And yet, Phil, geeky pharmacist Wally (Wally Dunn) and milquetoast accountant Howard (Jim Walton) are sticking to it, in late middle age, even though their quartet’s lead singer dies of a heart attack while holding a strenuous high note in a recent competition. (The musical starts at his funeral.)
“He sang his heart out,” says Wally
They won that contest, probably just out of sympathy voting, but hey, they’ll take it, since now they have a shot at winning the nationals. (Where their competition will include the dauntingly talented Sons of Pitches.)
They need a new member, though, and are thrilled to find a local singer with a strong voice who wants to be part of their quartet. All sorts of complications ensue, however, when they find out that Bob — whom they’ve only talked to over the phone — is actually Baba, a young, turban-wearing immigrant.
Baba can handle the repertoire. But can the Lipitones handle his ethnicity? And can he stomach their Western ways? That’s the crux of the play.
Though true, that description probably makes the play sound more serious than it is. In actuality, it’s as light and breezy as the music it satirizes. And while some of the jokes and plot twists are as predictable as the Lipitones’ “Wait ’til the Sun Shines, Nellie,” the play succeeds in its modest mission, delivering some laughs as well as an uplifting multicultural moral while also reminding people how gorgeous barbershop music can be (the four actors harmonize beautifully on a dozen songs scattered throughout the play).
“The Fabulous Lipitones” will be presented at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, Nov. 23 and 30 and Dec. 7 at 2 and 7 p.m.; Nov. 25 and 28 and Dec. 3-5, 9-10 and 12 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 26 and 29 and Dec. 6, 11 and 13 at 2 and 8 p.m., and Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. Visit GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org.
There will also be free post-show performances by the barbershop groups Untamed, on Nov. 29, and Faces 4 Radio, on Dec. 10.