New seats, shiny chandeliers, fresh paint and and good old fashioned harmony set an upbeat tone for Penobscot Theatre Company’s 44th season, which opened over the weekend with “The Fabulous Lipitones” at the Bangor Opera House.
The plot of the play is similar to “Forever Plaid,” first performed by the company in 2009. “The Fabulous Lipitones” opens at the funeral of one of the quartet’s members, who died at the regional finals, never knowing the group won first place and should be headed to the national contest.
The Lipitones’ dilemma is whether to give up singing barbershop or to find a replacement. What’s left of the white, middle-aged group stumbles on a new singer but, other than his love of singing, Bob ( Danish Farooqui) is nothing like Howard (D.C. Anderson), Phil ( Doug Meswarb) or Wally ( Dominick Varney). Bab Mati Singh, aka Bob, is a 20-something sikh, who may be in the country illegally.
“The Fabulous Lipitones,” written by John Markus and Mark St. Germain, is funny and heartwarming without being saccharine. Director Michael Marotta has his cast walk a razor thin line that anchors the comedy in the characters but never lets the actors slip into portrayals that could be seen as racist if handled less delicately. Even Phil, who suspects Bob is a terrorist, comes around to accepting him.
The actors form a fine ensemble, especially when they sing the barbershop standards — “Wait ‘til the Sun Shines Nellie,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “I Want a Girl” — that make up the bulk of the show’s musical numbers. Musical Director Danny Williams did a wonderful job getting Anderson, Meswarb and Varney to sound like they’ve been singing together since high school. Farooqui’s tenor voice fits in perfectly.
As for the acting, it’s impossible to single out one performance over another. Each actor makes the character his own and, in doing so, reveals each man’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Plus, all four of them are equally funny.
Chez Cherry’s set design of Howard’s basement is wonderfully detailed. From the clothes drying rack attached to the wall to the rumpus room bar to the record collection, everything looks and feels authentic. The cast uses it well and look incredibly comfortable on it.
The Opera House’s new look makes Howard’s basement look shabbier than if the show had closed PTC’s 43rd season before the renovations. The theater’s new seats, upholstered in fabric, and lighting are a fantastic addition to the performance space.
Not only are the seats more comfortable than the old ones, they seem to give theatergoers a bit more leg room. The new chandeliers illuminate the space enough to allow older patrons to read their programs without having to use the flashlight apps on their cellphones. The dark blue paint gives the Opera House a ritzy feel it has not had in decades.
Everything about this season’s first production and the theater’s makeover is absolutely fabulous.
“The Fabulous Lipitones” will be performed through Sept. 24 at the Bangor Opera House, 131 Main Street. For information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.