Thursday, September 25, 2014

The dulcet tones of a barbershop quartet teach a lesson in tolerance in Taproot's "The Fabulous Lipitones"

Brad Walker, John Patrick Lowrie, Greg Stone and Jeff Berryman in The Fabulous Lipitones (Erik Stuhaug)

The Fabulous Lipitones
Through October 18, 2014

(printed in Seattle Gay News)

Oh, no! The tenor member of a barbershop quartet has died, just before the national finals! What do the other three do? Between arguing about disbanding (and other petty squabbles), they hear a great new singing voice on the phone and set about having an audition, right away. But the guy who shows up is “not like them.” He’s wearing a turban. Hilarity ensues.

This sweet production of The Fabulous Lipitones at Taproot Theatre is a new work by John Markus and Mark St. Germain (former writers on The Cosby Show), and is disarmingly light. It’s kind of a small town story, set in a farm town outside Columbus, Ohio, where people do small town kinds of things, like develop a passion for barbershop quartet music.

The revelation that the tenor they need in order to go to nationals is a Sikh almost sends Phil the gym owner (Jeff Berryman) into paroxysms of fear and racism. Wally the pharmacist (John Patrick Lowrie) and Howard (Greg Stone) are far more interested in going to nationals to worry too much about terrorism from Baba Mati Das – otherwise known as “Bob” (Brad Walker). Eventually, they browbeat, wear down and bargain with Phil to get him to move forward with Bob as their fourth singer.

There are lots of jokes, a few groaners, and some familiar stock kinds of characters (though with unique characteristics that help) and the production, helmed by Scott Nolte, feels like a dessert, all silly and amusing. Embedded in there, though, is a big topic of accepting those who are different than we are, learning about cultures that are not our own, and finding ways of overcoming obstacles to inclusion.

The four actors all perform the barbershop quartet arrangements with dispatch and professionalism. They sound great. They are all terrific singers.

The set by Mark Lund allows for transformation from a funeral parlor to the crowded basement of Howard’s small house. Costuming by Nanette Acosta is appropriately serviceable until fun and gaudy performance gear is added. Some Bollywood-style dance steps are provided by Gurvinder Pal Singh with additional choreography by Beth Orme.

This is exactly the type of production that would appeal to Taproot’s subscribers. There is a message, but it is clearly stated and swaddled in great humor. It’s kind of like eating ice cream and then finding out that they used soy milk or almond milk and healthy ingredients and you thought it tasted great anyway.

Also, Walker’s performance is tender and honorable to the Sikh traditions and values. He is funny (he has a terrific grin), but never makes fun of, or denigrates, his character’s upright sense of righteousness.

For more information, go to www.taproottheatre.org or call 206-781-9707.