Penguin turns its stage over to the New York premiere of “The Fabulous Lipitones,” the story of a barbershop quartet that becomes a trio when Andy Lipinski — the group’s namesake, founder, musical arranger, costume designer and lead singer — dies. The Lipitones have to face life after Andy, which might involve facing the music and folding the group after 30 years.
Playwrights John Markus and Mark St. Germain teamed up on “Lipitones.”
Markus was a longtime head writer for “The Cosby Show” and has the Peabody and Emmy awards to prove it. St. Germain, who lives in Pound Ridge, caught lightning in a bottle with the thought-provoking Off-Broadway sensation “Freud’s Last Session” a few years back. In the intermissionless 85-minute “Lipitones,” they are quick with ridiculous quartet names and online-dating profile aliases.
Director Peter Flynn — who has directed starry Broadway concerts productions of “On the Twentieth Century,” “Chess,” and “Funny Girl” — keeps the play moving, with a strong cast roaming Patrick Rizzotti’s wonderfully dated basement man-cave set. Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s costumes (including some over-the-top barbershop get-ups) play a key role.
The basement belongs to Howard Dunphy, played as an earnest nebbish by Broadway veteran Scott Mikita. Local audiences might recall Mikita’s star turn as the title character in the too-short run of “Wallenberg,” a musical by Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman at White Plains PAC years ago. Mikita’s Howard is the moral center here, balancing the emotional ends of the remaining trio.
P.J. Benjamin plays Phil Rizzardi, a curmudgeonly character from the Archie Bunker mold who nonetheless is captivated by four-part harmony. As much as he wants to fold up shop, the lure of barbershop is irresistible. Benjamin’s credits include a run as the Wizard in “Wicked” on Broadway and beyond.
Joe Ricci’s Wally Smith is the emotional tenor, playing for laughs and getting them.
After much debate, the boys decide to stay together and search for an capable fourth. Rachid Sabitri arrives with a twinkle in his eye, as Bob, who is nothing like Andy.
Markus and St. Germain mine the getting-to-know-you phase — the trio adjusting to Bob and Bob challenging the song selection — for all its worth. The scene where barbershop fixtures are deconstructed is particularly funny. Some of the harmonies flagged in the show’s opening weekend, giving some songs an undercooked sound that was decidedly unbarbershop, but repetition is a sure cure for that. And the show runs till month’s end.
If the proceedings have the harmless feel of a sitcom, and they do, it is in service to a story about respecting differences and celebrating harmony. In a world where headlines are dominated by division and anger, there are a lot worse ways to spend an evening.
“The Fabulous Lipitones,” directed by Peter Flynn. Penguin Rep, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point. Through Aug. 31. 7:30 p.m., Thursdays; 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m., Saturdays; 2 p.m., Sundays. $40, discounts for groups of 10 or more and for those 30 and younger. penguinrep.org. 845-786-2873.
Photo by Aaron Pepis: The cast of “The Fabulous Lipitones” at Penguin Rep is, from left: Joe Ricci (Wally), Rachid Sabitri (Bob), Scott Mikita (Howard), and P.J. Benjamin (Phil).