The Plaids of Forever Plaid are back, entertaining Glendale Centre Theatre audiences with their close-harmony vocals and amusing between-song patter in a 90-minute revue that couldn’t be a better choice for the retired seniors who make up the bulk of GCT audiences—and should prove entertaining to the under-65 set as well.

The brainchild of Stuart Ross and James Raitt, the titular Plaids are best friends Sparky, Jinx, Smudge, and Frankie, victims of a 1964 car crash, caused when their vehicle collided with a busload of Catholic schoolgirls on a road trip to see the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Forever Plaid grants The Plaids permission to return to earth for one final show some 57 years later.

Once you get past its rather morbid setup (one that continues to pop up in frequent reminders that the four are indeed dead, though fortunately the schoolgirls survived unscratched), Forever Plaid proves a nostalgic, funny, tuneful mixture of songs, patter, and shtick.

The Plaids (second tenor Frankie, top tenor Jinx, bass Smudge, and baritone Sparky) make their initial entrance dressed in white dinner jackets and singing “Deus Ex Plaid” in Latin—with an early 1960s-appropriate “Sh-boom” on its final notes. “Holy Canonli! We’re finally back on earth!” declares long dead Frankie (Alex Camp), prompting Sparky (Kurt Cereske) to add optimistically, “We could make the biggest comeback since Lazarus!”

Quite a comeback it is, one which has Frankie, Sparky, Jinx (Daniel Thomas), and Smudge (Danny Michaels) launching into a series of mid-20th Century hits with the tightest harmonies since The Four Aces (and Freshmen) joined voices in the 1950s. The Plaids treat us to “Three Coins In A Fountain,” “Gotta Be This Or That,” “Undecided,” “Moments To Remember,” “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby,” and “No Not Much”—and that’s only in the first twenty minutes of an evening of song and nostalgia.

Each of the Plaids gets his chance to sing leads, Sparky with “Perfidia,” Jinx with “Cry,” Smudge with “Sixteen Tons,” and Frankie with “Chain Gang.” The five-song medley “The Catering Drill” includes the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” with “yeah, yeah, yeah” turned into a Plaid-esque “yes siree … Bob.” A second medley pays tribute to 1950s TV/recording icon Perry Como, with “Dream Along With Me,” “Sing To Me, Mr. C,” and “Catch A Falling Star,” and medley number three (“The Plaids Go Calypso”) blends four of Harry Belafonte’s greatest hits, including an audience sing-along to “Matilda.”

When music director/onstage pianist Steven Applegate takes his “union break,” the Plaids invite an audience member (Judy at the performance reviewed here) to join Sparky at the piano for “Heart And Soul,” followed by the evening’s pièce de résistance, “Lady Of Spain” performed as a lickety-split tribute to the Ed Sullivan Show, one which manages to compact Senor Wences, Topo Gigio, The Vienna Boys Choir, the Singing Nun, performing seals, acrobats, jugglers, and plate spinners into just over three minutes, with Smudge standing in very nicely for Ed himself. Oh, and somewhere in there there’s a commercial for “the new 1954 Mercury Monterey, featuring Merco-Matic drive.” How’s that for a blast from the past?

Completing the evening of music, laughter, and nostalgia are “Shangri-La,” “Rags To Riches,” and the grand finale, “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.”

Forever Plaid, lovingly and imaginatively directed by Orlando Alexander, distinguishes itself from previous GCT musicals with its thrust-stage setting, the fourth wall of seats having been blocked off by Tim Dietlein’s nightclub set, thereby relieving The Plaids of the tricky business of having to perform their act in the round. Live musical accompaniment (by Applegate and bassist Timothy Emmons) replaces the usual prerecorded tracks, to fine effect.

Since all four GCT Plaids have performed their roles in numerous previous Forever Plaid productions, it’s no wonder that Camp, Cereske, Michaels, and Thomas could not be better either vocally or comedically, their splendid work here reflecting years of fine-tuning.

Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes have done their usual terrific job of costuming the cast. Dietlein does double duty as announcer and sound technician. Paul Reid is stage manager.

You don’t have to be old enough to remember the 1950s and ’60 to enjoy Forever Plaid. Even those born decades after The Plaids met their maker should have an entertaining time, and may even find themselves YouTubing the original artists who inspired The Plaids’ one last concert before heading back (to paraphrase Perry Como) “on their way to the stars.”

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
–Steven Stanley
January 6, 2011

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