Original story teams with barbershop quartet for ‘Dastardly Deeds’

Yo, Snidely. …

(Sorry — Mr. Whiplash. We don’t mean to disrespect a villain of your stature.)

Can we borrow that furry protrusion over your evil upper lip? You know, with the curlicues on the sides for twirling whenever you tied poor Nell to the train tracks with a sinister "heh, heh, heh."

Black top hat, too, if you can spare it.

"I play the villain, Simon Scowell," says Peter Feeney. Yes, think "American Idol" judges panel. As our baddie admits: "Subtlety is not our thing."

Really? When the heroine is rescued by a hero named Justin Tyme?

Subtlety won’t be anywhere in the house when "Dastardly Deeds in the Desert" plays Saturday afternoon at the Winchester Cultural Center Theater.

Still thinking "Les Miserables"? Get a grip, theatergoers. "Dastardly Deeds" is an original play that’s more of a framework to spotlight local singing talent, including the City of Lights Chorus and local vocal quartets: four male barbershop outfits (Broadcast, Good Times, Shaken Not Stirred and Rumble Seat Daze), one female (SINsational) and one doo-wop (The Chaperones).

A Western-themed romp circa 1890, the "Dastardly" plot (that’s "plot" in the loosest sense) concerns "a collision of good and evil." After a hotel owner takes a dirt nap, his widow inherits the joint and finds herself the prize sought by Sheriff Justin Tyme and greedy Simon Scowell, who both want to wed her.

Placing bets on how it turns out?

As chorus members croon and play townsfolk, quartet singers will lend their harmonizing talents to such chestnuts as "Home on the Range," "I’ll Be Seeing You," "Danny Boy," "Lida Rose" (from "The Music Man"), "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," "Along the Navajo Trail," "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You."

"We have 30 or 40 songs in our repertoire, and we tried to put those into some crazy ideas for a story line," says Greg Dreyer, the show’s director and a chorus member. "We decided to do a melodrama with a good guy and a bad guy."

As members of the Barbershop Harmony Society in Nashville, the groups sometimes receive prepackaged shows with which to surround their sound. This time, Las Vegas writer Jacque Klaus spun the tongue-in-cheek "Dastardly" script (that’s "script" in the loosest sense) that even includes the town’s mayor, a parody of a certain Vegas official. Any guesses?

"We use him to make fun of Oscar Goodman and say he’s going to Bombay (gin, anyone?) to pick up supplies," says Feeney, also the show’s chairman. "We make believe we’re drinking martinis."

What little dialogue "Dastardly" features is delivered by an emcee played as a prospector who explains the daffy doings to the audience.

"We have a music hall set where the quartets perform," Feeney explains. "We have a doo-wop group that doesn’t fit into the Old West at all, so they come out and say, ‘Hello folks, we’re a quartet from the future and we’re here on a time machine.’ You can tell it’s corny."

Similar musical non sequiturs apply to tunes such as "You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You," presumably not an Old West ditty unless Dean Martin enjoyed a considerably longer career than originally thought.

They just gotta sing. Any excuse will do. "We come riding in on stick ponies chasing the bad guys," Dreyer says. "While we’re there, we sing a song."

The real appeal of "Dastardly Deeds" is the barbershop sound and its lush harmonies. "People say it makes the hair on the back of their necks stand up," Feeney says. "When you hit a chord, three other voices plus your own, it’s a very unusual sound. It gives you a funny sensation. Some people find it very annoying. Other people find it wonderful."

Contrary to popular perception, given its old-style persona, barbershop music does find younger fans because of school singing groups. "It attracts the high school crowd because of the a cappella singing," Feeney says. "At around age 25, we kind of lose that audience, but they tend to come back at around 45."

Though teaming the music with a wacky tale might add amusement for the audience, Dreyer says it also presents challenges to barbershop-style performers unaccustomed to musical theater. "The guys aren’t able to stand on risers and get into a formal stance and sing, which is musically better," he says. "Here, we’re moving around, looking like we’re drinking at the bar, playing poker, and we’re scattered. It’s more difficult musically."

Cut ’em some slack on the whole "play" thing, OK? "We’re not that fussy about how we make it work," says Feeney, aka The Villain. "We wink at the audience and ask them to go along with it."

Thanks for the prop loans, Snide. … Mr. Whiplash.

Heh, heh, heh.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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