Ignore any obvious similarities between Perfect Harmony, a "mockumentary" about dueling prep-school a cappella groups, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. For one thing, Perfect Harmony has no original score, and its characters are older. Perfect Harmony is also edgier.
Written by Andrew Grosso and the Essentials (Grosso also directs), the a cappella groups are gender specific. The Acafellas are Lassiter (Vayu O'Donnell) and Philip (Noah Weisberg), squabbling best friends; Jasper (Blake Whyte), mute except when he sings; JB (Scott Janes), a quarterback; and Simon Depardieu (David Barlow), a nerd with an Oedipus complex and TMJ. The Ladies in Red are Melody (Autumn Dornfeld), whose misuse of English might mortify Mrs. Malaprop; Michaela (Jeanine Serralles), a grammatically challenged Herzegovinian; Valerie (Margie Stokley), who is scoptophobic (afraid of being looked at); Meghan (Maria Elana Ramirez), who is equally pledged to God and hip-hop; and Kerri (Marina Squerciati), who says she doesn't have Tourette's syndrome, her sputtering potty mouth notwithstanding.
The 95-minute one-act recalls Spelling Bee in its fiercely competitive teams and members and their stories. But whereas Spelling Bee tends toward sweetness, Perfect Harmony is sharp as a blade. And if the writing is sometimes self-consciously clever, the performances — especially those of Barlow and Ramirez — are magnificently hilarious.
Let me elaborate: Barlow also plays Goran, Michaela's Sex Pistols-worshipping brother, and his characterizations are so ingeniously witty, you don't even realize at first that one actor plays both roles. On paper, meanwhile, Meghan might read as simply another fervent teenager, but Ramirez's line readings are staggeringly funny. I'd beg for her to have more stage time.
The harmonies — typically absurd versions of pop songs — range from lovely to ridiculous to riotous. They help to make Perfect Harmony as close to perfect as any Fringe show can be.
Presented by the Essentials as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at Henry Street Settlement's Harry de Jur Playhouse, 466 Grand St., NYC. Aug. 15-27. Remaining performances: Sat., Aug. 26, 9:15 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 27, noon. (212) 279-4488 or www.fringenyc.org.