Kids Corner


The Making of Harmony:
The Fabulous Lipitones





THE FABULOUS LIPITONES, by John Markus and Mark St. Germain. Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld. Directed by Michael Mastro. With Donald Corren, Wally Dunn, Rohan Kymal and Jim Walton. The George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. Final shows at this theatre: December 13 & 14, 2014.

"The Fabulous Lipitones is pure fun. Make time to see it during the holiday season...a hit show for sure." - Marina Kennedy,

"The Fabulous Lipitones is funny, it’s’s the total package." - Charles Paolino, Home News Tribune/Gannett

The Fabulous Lipitones” doesn’t set out to be fabulous, and that makes this friendly show all the better. Indeed, this a cappella musical works just fine without much glitter or glamour — its greatest pleasures spring from the simplest of intentions.

In this production, at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, the barbershop quartet of the title became a trio after Andy, its lead singer, “suffered his fatal heart attack while competing at the regional championships in Indianapolis,” says Howard, one member of the group.

“Sang his heart out,” Wally, another member, adds helpfully.

Soon Howard, Wally and Phil, the other remaining singer, debate whether to break up or to seek a replacement for their colleague. When a possible successor arrives for a tryout, the arguments among these three 50-something white men from a small town in Ohio escalate: the interviewee, Bob, is a 20-something Sikh auto mechanic from Punjab, complete with a turban, bronze skin and a Punjabi accent.

But boy, can he sing.

Plenty of misunderstandings, disagreements and stereotype jokes follow throughout the hour-and-45-minute running time, as well as various sight gags and puns. All are good-natured and most are quite humorous. The quartet’s name, for example, was assembled from a host of ideas, with the ultimate aim of sounding like a cholesterol drug.

“I really thought I could get Pfizer to sponsor us,” says Wally, a pharmacist. “But they never returned my calls.”

'Bob' -- the Sikh character in the quartet -- true to his own Punjabi 'roots', quips: “I am sorry about Pfizer. I have many family members back home answering their 1-800 number customer hotline.”

Later, as the group prepares to compete at the national barbershop quartet championship event (against such rivals as the Sons of Pitches and the High Colonics) they consider which songs to perform. Bob suggests a tune that he loved as a child.

“It’s the legend of a beautiful princess who dies, returns as a brown rabbit, only to be shot by the prince who loves her to make rabbit stew.”

The irritable Phil, unleashing one of his many tirades, asks: “You want us to sing about Thumper taking a bullet?”

Comedy aside, the biggest delights here come from the crooning. The four rarely miss a chance to harmonize, and the songs are, by and large, satisfying. Those include several standards -- a medley of patriotic numbers and a lovely version of “Beautiful Dreamer” stand out -- as well as a few originals, composed by Randy Courts with lyrics by Mark St. Germain; Mr. St. Germain and John Markus wrote the script.

It’s often said in the theater that 90 percent of a director’s success rides on choosing the right cast. If so, Michael Mastro deserves high marks for his skill in assembling actors -- the four are exceptionally well matched. His talent for pacing is also admirable. R. Michael Miller’s set, like his design for the recent production of “Outside Mullingar” in the same space, is rich with detail.

As the wishy-washy Howard, Jim Walton is a fine contrast against Donald Corren’s hard-charging Phil. The conflicts they generate help to drive the straightforward story. Wally Dunn, as the ebullient Wally, is a gifted comedic actor, while Rohan Kymal is extraordinarily likable as the buoyant Bob. All four smartly play off one another during the dialogue, and sing together with surprising harmony.

It takes nothing away from “The Fabulous Lipitones” to say that the musical is eager to please (without pandering to its audience). The comedy is light and the plot is familiar, and all of this can be strangely risky in an age that prizes cynicism and spectacle. But on its own terms this show about an old-fashioned singing group is successful, as it should be.

Niceness, one hopes, never really goes out of style.

[Courtesy: New York Times. Edited for]
December 13, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Harinder Singh (Bridgewater, New Jersey, USA), December 13, 2014, 2:52 PM.

My wife Gurpreet and I saw the play on its opening night at George Street Playhouse, New Jersey, about a month ago. To get the Sikh story right, keep it funny while pushing for reflection, and still have it as a genre of barber shop quartet (singing/notes), this is no trivial task. I reckon this must be a first time where a Sikh character is on stage not just donning a dastaar, but also a very visible kirpan. In conversations with John Markus (one of the creators), I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of care, integrity, nuanced considerations, and continuous openness to religious sensitivity he and his colleagues have shown. Go watch it today.

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