As summer’s dog days wane, the new theater season begins with the much-produced musical Forever Plaid. Stuart Ross’ tribute to guy groups of the early 1960s is such a sweet-natured little show, it would be churlish to knock it, but devotees of edgy, provocative theater should look elsewhere.
Forever Plaid is about The Plaids — Jinx (Doug Rankin), Frankie (Jake DeTommaso), Sparky (Jared Blount) and Smudge (Clayton Blair) — who met an untimely end on their way to a gig in 1964 when their Mercury convertible was T-boned by a church bus.
For reasons unclear, they’ve returned to Earth for one performance, which the audience is witnessing.
That sketchy premise is the scaffold on which this jukebox musical hangs songs that actually played on jukeboxes. The show begins with “Three Coins in the Fountain” and ends with “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” so you get the idea.
But the score is the show’s strength.
Let’s not get carried away and call it a “golden age,” but some of our great pop songs came from the 1950s and early 1960s. “Moments to Remember,” “Catch a Falling Star,” “Shangri-La,” “Heart and Soul” (the one song everyone can play on piano) and others are heard here. Todd Malicoate on piano and Jason Hunt on electric bass (although acoustic bass would be better) provide tasteful accompaniment.
The actors have adequate, if not outstanding, voices for four-part harmony and do a good job making the lyrics martini-clear. Blount’s “Perfidia” is appealing, and Blair’s “Sixteen Tons” is droll when you consider the absurdity of Smudge singing about working in a coal mine.
These lads are the types who were active in their high school audiovisual club and now work in auto parts and bathroom fixtures while singing with The Plaids on the side. “Lady of Spain” features several regulars from The Ed Sullivan Show, including my favorites: the plate-spinners.
Timothy Stewart directs the production and keeps it moving quickly.
His corny choreography has a certain period appeal, but Forever Plaid is like farce: It doesn’t hold up well to repeat viewing, and Stewart hasn’t found anything new or fresh in the show.
He includes the shtick with plumber’s helpers, and Smudge waxes nostalgic over his collection of 45-rpm records. The Plaids are so ambitious that they make album covers before they have albums to put in them.
Michael James’ costumes noticeably lack plaid, until the boys open their white dinner jackets to reveal tartan cummerbunds so dark, you can hardly see the pattern. James A. Hughes’ scenic design consists of three receding wooden arches and so much stage smoke that the production looks in danger of being fogged in.
Stewart omits the usual ending sight gag where the audience sees the boys going up into heaven. That’s too bad; it would be nice to see The Plaids get their eternal reward.