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Written by Craig Thomson   
Published on Wednesday, 06 August 2008

I'M A SUCKER FOR SHOWS with creative puns in their title.  So my interest was piqued instantly when I saw, on a running schedule at the Pleasance Courtyard, a show called Barbershopera by Toni & The Guys.  A two-part, self-referential pun involving both the title and the group name?  Sold!

Given the combination of its late start, hairdressing theme and warning on the door about strong language, I was expecting something camp, offensive... and probably not much good.  (Alas, a good pun does not always a good show make: last year, Who’s Eaten Gilbert’s Grape? was excellent, The Decaffeination of Kofi Annan not so much).

What we actually got – and I don’t know why I was surprised by this – was a part-Barbershop Quartet, part-Opera, wholly-exceptional musical comedy.  The quartet is cut down to a trio when their tenor quits unexpectedly in the build-up to the Eurovision Barbershop Contest, but they manage to find a replacement in the form of a diva dumped by the National Opera.  Will they crack that harmony?  Will they triumph over the evil Swiss?  Will they cope with the pressure of the competition?  And will they squeeze another rhyme out of the capital of Slovenia?

Barbershopera describes itself as a four-part harmony musical, and all four members of the company are supremely capable singers and comic performers.  This is the group’s first run at the Fringe, and it's a quintessential Fringe experience: ambitious, hilarious alternative comedy in a cramped and hot little room (or Portakabin, as the Pleasance Beside could be more accurately described).  Many of the big laughs come from the baritone duo, but they play off straight-man bass Hugh and/or operatic siren Toni – and when the four don moustaches to portray the Swiss competition, all bets are off as to who’ll provoke the most mirth.

This is an accomplished and original production, which lightly splashes de rigueur pop culture touchstones (a particular highlight is the montage of famous film montages) with more esoteric references, such as The Marriage of Figaro.  But it's rooted in the traditions of Barbershop music, and is a delight to hear and see in such an intimate environment.

Go see them – and ignore the sign on the door, because this is a show for any kind of festival-goer who wants the very best in music and comedy.  As their entry in the Fringe guide proclaims, expect laughs, tears and enormous vibratos.

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