One wouldn’t expect a comedy about a barbershop quartet to be chock full of cutting-edge humor, but even by that relaxed standard, “The Fabulous Lipitones” is an especially moldy chestnut. This quaint sensibility extends to the show’s pat lessons on tolerance, which are well-meaning but hardly compelling.
Taproot Theatre Company’s production of the musical play is brisk and tuneful, polished to a professional sheen under Scott Nolte’s direction and featuring a solid cast that’s at its best singing four-part harmony, but that’s not enough to make this creaky play sing. Using familiar songs composed by others, the script by Mark St. Germain (“Freud’s Last Session”) and John Markus aspires to the kind of affectionate satire seen in Christopher Guest’s film “A Mighty Wind,” another work about an unfashionable art form, but “Lipitones” settles instead for jokes that are as obvious as its moral.
Consummate pros Jeff Berryman, John Patrick Lowrie and Greg Stone star as Phil, Wally and Howard, three-fourths of a small-town Ohio quartet mourning the death of their lead vocalist, who was cut down by a heart attack in the middle of a performance.
The unexpected hole in the group threatens to dismantle the Lipitones, as the acerbic Phil looks toward expanding his fitness business and the naive Wally turns to Internet dating. Much of the show’s humor is based in highlighting simple incongruities, leading to a litany of groaners about old people working out, old people fumbling with technology and old people having sex. The fact that these actors look nowhere near geriatric doesn’t help sell the material.
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Holding the group together is steadfast Howard, who persuades the others to audition a new leading member after hearing him sing over the phone. They love his voice, but when Bob (Brad Walker) shows up to their basement hideout, they’re taken aback to discover he’s an Indian Sikh. Bafflement over his religion, his turban and his ceremonial kirpan ensues.
Bob (given name: Baba Mati Das) cheerfully deflects the men’s racism and quickly wins them over with a can-do attitude and his as-advertised singing abilities. Walker’s 1,000-watt grin and impish charm help flesh out a character that’s written without much dimension beyond his lesson-teaching qualities.
Because the group’s journey from ignorance to acceptance is pretty smooth, the script is padded out with some halfhearted intrigue about immigration troubles and a maudlin twist featuring yet another sudden death. The show is much more engaging when the actors are simply allowed to sing, even if a medley of Sting, Boston and “The Hymn of Joy” wasn’t exactly crying out for four-part harmony treatment.
Dusty Somers: email@example.com