In Mark St. Germain’s hospital drama “The God Committee,” a group of medical professionals debated ethics and which of four patients would get an emergency heart transplant. His quasi-historical “Freud’s Last Session” contemplated science vs. religion by imagining an encounter between psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and theologian C.S. Lewis.
Both plays received very admirable stagings at Theatrical Outfit, as did St. Germain’s musical version of another story with a “message,” O. Henry’s famous morality tale “The Gifts of the Magi.”
Needless to say, perhaps, “The Fabulous Lipitones,” a comedy by St. Germain and John Markus involving a small-town barbershop quartet, doesn’t exactly operate on the same lofty plane. The Outfit’s world-premiere production of the show, directed by the ubiquitous Justin Anderson (“Tigers Be Still,” “Assassins”), is mildly diverting but comparatively trifling.
In the amusing opening scene, no sooner does the group advance to the final round of a national singing competition than its leader promptly drops dead of a heart attack. As one member quips, “He really sang his heart out.” Back home in Babcock, Ga., the surviving Lipitones must decide whether to dash their dreams and withdraw from the competition or to carry on by quickly finding and rehearsing a replacement.
Men of a certain age with “real” lives apart from their harmonizing hobby, they include the dutiful Howard (played by Outfit artistic director Tom Key), who’s dealing with a wayward (unseen) wife; the late-blooming Wally (Glenn Rainey), a pharmacist hooked on his new iPhone and meeting women online; and the hot-headed Phil (William S. Murphey), a would-be jock who manages a trendy gym.
Enter Bob (Daniel Hilton), or so he’s called, a young auto mechanic who also happens to be a Sikh immigrant. The four of them presumably learn to overcome their cultural differences and better understand each other — you know, to make music together.
But “The Fabulous Lipitones” generally reduces that to the most simplistic level: e.g., a silly routine about Bob teaching them one of his own childhood songs. When situations turn serious late in the 90-minute show, it feels unfounded and contrived.
It’s nothing personal against Hilton, whose Bob is endearing enough, to wonder how much more strongly the story might have played had the role been cast with an actor of color. Rainey and Murphey, two of Atlanta’s finest character actors, handle the bulk of the play’s comedic repartee with considerable aplomb, while Key acquits himself fairly well as the closest thing to a straight man on view.
With musical direction and arrangements by Michael Monroe, the bits and pieces of several traditional songs are agreeably performed. There may be no mistaking their four-part harmonies for the stuff of national championships, so it’s probably a smart move that the play leaves it unresolved as to whether they ultimately dethrone the reigning Sons of Pitches (funny).
“The Fabulous Lipitones” is good for a few such laughs, but as a commentary on the universality of human nature, the show falls a little flat.
“The Fabulous Lipitones”
Through April 21. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $15-$33. Theatrical Outfit (the Balzer Theater at Herren’s), 84 Luckie St., Atlanta. 1-877-725-8849.
Bottom line: Hardly fabulous but somewhat enjoyable.