OREM — Years ago, I saw the original Forever Plaid and loved the story of the four young men from the ’60s, The Plaids, who were killed in a car crash on the way to their first real gig. They are given the chance to perform one more time, and do so in an engaging, sometimes hip, sometimes heartwarming concert. Plaid Tidings brings us The Plaids again, and this time, they are allowed to give the One Performance they always wanted to have—a TV Christmas special, just like their hero Perry Como’s, who makes an appearance into the show in the second act.
The playwright, Stuart Ross, resisted writing a sequel to “Forever Plaid”, but after 9/11 felt the world needed a little more joy and a little cozy holiday fun to lift spirits. Am I ever glad Ross made this choice, as “Plaid Tidings” is a wonderful way to enjoy, to quote Ross himself, “a little toasty, cozy, musical holiday cheer.”
The show begins with a Rod Serling type voice narrating and introducing The Plaids. At first, the four young men aren’t sure why they’re back again, but as they begin to smell the scents of Christmas, often mid-song, they begin to belt out Christmas tunes. Once they get into the Christmas part of the show, it is at times hilarious, sometimes sweet, and always reminiscent of holiday specials of the past, performing on a lovely, holiday set adorned with the ubiquitous Christmas tree and a huge hearth to gather around.
The Plaids, played by Mike Halsey as Sparky, Gerrit Dunford as Frankie, Alex Lund as Smudge, and Sam Donini as Jinx harmonize well together and have a synergy that works onstage. Each actor has mastered their particular quirky character and the choreography necessary to replicate a ’60s quartet. I can see all these young men as the friends they play onstage—they seem to really like each other and this friendship communicates itself to the very supportive and excited crowd at the SCERA. I’m not sure the SCERA always draws such an enthusiastic audience, but the family-type feel was generated in the popcorn-eating group and added to the fun.
There were some issues at the beginning of the performance with sound, the mics crackling and dropping some lines, but that was quickly resolved and the rest of the dialogue and musical numbers were clear and plenty loud. At one point, Rockette type dancers come onstage for a few numbers. The original play had these dancers as puppets, and frankly that probably would have worked better. The Rockettes, though they were played by talented dancers, cluttered up the stage and took away from The Plaids, who are the folks we came to see.
My husband and my 14-year-old son accompanied me to Plaid Tidings, and we all had a fantastic time. We laughed during almost every number. We especially loved the “Carol of the Bells” (which included asking a member of the audience to come help, but we all wondered if she was a plant since she was wearing a plaid skirt!), Frankie’s hilarious commentary about “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as he explored the societal and psychological implications of the holiday carol, and “Sh-Boom.” In almost every number, the playwright has cleverly combined Christmas lyrics into popular ’60s ballads, or used Christmas tunes and secular lyrics. It all works.
The boys “watch” a bit of a Perry Como Christmas special that is broadcast on a large screen onstage, singing the backup they wished they could have done for Como. It is charming and sweet, but may be a little difficult to follow for those who didn’t grow up watching Como. There’s also a three-minute, eleven-second version of The Ed Sullivan Show, which also appears in the original Forever Plaid that, while very funny, may not be as understandable to the post-Sullivan audience members. It is fast and silly, though, and my teenage son laughed out loud.
Director Robinne Booth, who is directing the show for the third time says: “What I’m aiming for is a big, celebratory Christmas show.” She has certainly achieved this. I asked a few boys from the audience after the show, one who was eight, the other eleven, what they thought of it, and they said: awesome, fun, cool. That is high praise from a generation of video-game-playing, 3-D-movie-watching kids.
I need to make one more mention here. A live band accompanies The Plaids, and this trio is amazing. Pianist Robert B. Bailey has an incredible resume of those he’s played for in Hollywood in years past, including Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Pearl Bailey, Mel Torme and many others. Mitch Lee and Nathan Kimball alternate performances on drums, and Bart Gibb on the bass round out the trio nicely, looking like they’ve been playing together for years.