Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
FST has maintained a strong relationship with Mark St. Germain, having produced many of his plays in the past, including Freud's Last Session, and more recently Best of Enemies and Dancing Lessons. Mr. St. Germain tends to write plays with a social or moral lesson at their center. John Markus joins with him from the world of comedy and the play looks into the world of barbershop quartets. These three elements are all contained in the piece but to my mind do not blend into a comfortable unified whole. The laugh lines crop up frequently and are indeed funny, but they don't seem an easy fit with a story that examines prejudices, in this case against someone from a different culture. The frequent breaks for the men to sing from their barbershop repertoire also seem to try and exist in their own world. Still, the play leaves the audience feeling good and thinking at the same time.
The production features a strong cast. D.C. Anderson returns after a wonderful performance as Wilbur Turnblad in Hairspray a year and a half ago to play Howard Dunphy, Joel Blum is Wally Smith, Scott Wakefield is Phil Rizzardi, and Levin Valayil is all boyish charm as Baba Mati Singh, also known as Bob. All of them make their characters engaging to the audience. They blend well and the singing is fine, but not up to the level of championship barbershop quartets. The groups that inhabit the upper echelons of this world are nothing short of amazing in their arrangements and their blend.
On hand are all the hallmarks of the best that FST offers. Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay have contributed a richly detailed set, April Soroko has designed colorful costumes for the barbershop sequences and appropriate attire for other parts of the play, and Christopher Bailey's lighting design establishes several different locations. Author John Markus directs with a strong feel for the comic aspects without shortchanging the drama.
The Fabulous Lipitones should prove to be entertaining for Sarasota audiences and gets Florida Studio Theatre's summer Mainstage series off to a good start.
Note: I paid a return visit to The Fabulous Lipitones early in the performance week. I found the show was livelier and the punch lines were heard better, getting stronger laughs. I also noticed that the musical staging credited to Joel Blum really defines the characters.
Florida Studio Theatre presents The Fabulous Lipitones through June 26, 2016, at the Gompertz Theater 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Cast (in alphabetical order):
Director: John Markus