What better place for barbershop music than an old-fashioned barbershop?
That’s the premise of “Two Bits,” Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s original musical about five men in 1950s Minnesota. Written by artistic director Tom Width, who also directs, and arranged by frequent musical director Paul Deiss, the playful musical is inspired by Width’s youth growing up in a Norwegian family.
Even before the action starts, Width’s detailed barbershop set firmly plants the audience back in the 1959 of his youth. Among the two old barber chairs and porcelain sink are all the accoutrements of shop from the era.
Young Danny is about to wed, but he’s more concerned about the prospect of seeing his birth father for the first time since he went missing in action during World War II. This is as much of a plot as Width presents, instead treating the audience to some old-fashioned fun with excellent singing and a handful of gags.
The show’s five actors — Eric Williams, Richard Koch, Ian Page, Jason Marks and Arden Moscati — crisply sing song after song in perfect rhythm and harmony. Given how few performers there are, and how tightly they must sing together, this is no small feat.
The group’s only accompaniment is Nicky the Nickelodeon, an anthropomorphic player piano with a personality reminiscent of R2-D2. The piano is a star in its own right.
Though many of the show’s tunes aren’t original, Deiss’ arrangements and Width’s lyrics often are. Songs from “Rigoletto” and “The Barber of Seville” are cleverly hijacked for the show’s needs, and original numbers such as “Don’t Let Your Mama Cut Your Hair When She’s Mad at Your Daddy” are equally amusing. The show also serves up a number of barbershop standards, like “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine” and “Sweet Adeline.”
The show’s second act is a Murderers’ Row of looney gags, kicked off by Williams’ magic act gone wrong to the tune of “Twelfth Street Rag.” Koch pays homage to Harry Stewart’s Swedish character Yogi Yorgesson with a rendition of the wacky “Who Hid the Halibut on the Poop Deck.” And Page and company’s intentionally incorrectly sung “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is both incredibly difficult to perform and a hoot to witness.
Other notable moments of Width and Deiss’ show include Marks’ touching rendition of “Danny Boy” and a four-person argument set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Even Nicky the Nickelodeon gets his moment to shine, performing solo “Grand Fantasia on the Theme of the Mocking Bird.”
Entertaining for all ages is a term that gets bandied about to describe shows that only kids and grandparents enjoy. But “Two Bits” is the rarity that also amuses the audience members in-between.
With the show’s original gags, clever arrangements and tuneful singing, Swift Creek Mill Theatre has crafted a charming barbershop musical that’s a cut above. S
“Two Bits” plays through May 16 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Colonial Heights. For information, visit swiftcreekmill.com or call 748-5203.