ST. GEORGE — There is a moment, early in Plaid Tidings, where the character called Smudge (portrayed by Joey DeBenedetto) overcomes his natural nervous nature and sits down for an intimate chat with the audience. In this sweet, poignant interlude, he shares his feelings about the Christmas season, how it provided some of the only positive family time of his youth. He describes how his mother and father (and their various blended family elements) would act out the Christmas specials on television and hand out beautifully wrapped (albeit empty) gifts to all the children. It was the only time, apparently, when the family could be together without yelling at each other.
This moment may seem a little somber for a Christmas show, but it acted as in invitation to the audience, to acknowledge that not every family is perfect and not every holiday memory is Norman Rockwell worthy. Yet even though the holidays can be fraught with the fear of failure to achieve a picture-perfect Christmas, so many people still love the season, the decorations, the music. Tuacahn’s inaugural holiday season production of Plaid Tidings, performed at the Cox Auditorium in partnership with Dixie State College, is a perfect way to kick off the holiday season, with charm, humor and a whole lot of heart.
Those familiar with the prequel, Forever Plaid, which features these four (dead) quartet members, will easily recognize them here in St. George. Frankie (or Francis, played by James Royce Edwards) is still the lead singer and still calls most of the shots for the group. Sparky (Todd DuBail) is still the goofy one, high tenor Jinx (Venny Carranza) still gets nosebleeds when the pressure gets to be too much or the notes too high, and the afore-mentioned Smudge (DeBenedetto) is still the nerdy bass. The four characters seem to only have improved with age and the eternities to practice more of their favorite arrangements, even though they may never get another chance to perform, as far as they know.
The show opens in a similar way to Forever Plaid, with the candle-bearing four entering from the audience. In fact, Forever Plaid fans will recognize many of the same plot devices from the original show: there is the fun dance with the over sized plungers, the tribute to Perry Como (this time they get to act as sort of back-up singers), the audience participation portion, and the obligatory Ed Sullivan show in “three minutes and 11 seconds.” And it’s all laced with both standard tunes from the era just prior to The Beatles’ invasion and an overwhelming urge to sing favorite Christmas carols that the boys in plaid can’t overcome.
Director and Choreographer Dale Sandish has put together a fun, family-friendly holiday show that is a welcome alternative to the endless ubiquitous Christmas Carol offerings that saturate the season. Accompanied onstage only by a pianist (Camille Villalpando Rolla, who also acted as music director) and a bass player (listed as Robert Matheson and Teren Christensen in the program, although it is unclear which played the show I attended) the show is fast paced and fun, the harmonies are tight, the choreography both appropriate and funny, and the boys are endearing. Although the matinee audience of the performance I attended was not exactly eager to join in when invited by the performers, I predict that more will be willing to sing along from beginning to end as the run progresses and we get closer to Christmas.
The sound design by Julie Ferrin and lighting design by Joshua Scott worked together well to provide a cohesive, unintrusive background for the performance. The set design by Brent Hanson was simple: upon entering the audieorium, the audience was greeted by the sight of four microphones, two tall chairs, a grand piano, a stand up bass and large screen at upstage center. However, nothing overtly indicated this was a Christmas show, and indeed, the Plaids could be forgiven their confusion when they first “arrived” on scene; they had no idea what time of year it was, or why they had been summoned to sing Christmas songs. It takes a series of heavenly clues sent by Rosemary Clooney (via notes stuck to shoes, in Jinx’s mouth, and even a cell phone call from the audience) for the quartet to figure out their mission: to bring Christmas joy to the weary, depressed, and woebegone who have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. At this point the Plaids take an intermission to go get ready for the “real” Christmas show, and the stage gets spruced up with pine boughs, lights, holly, ivy, and more. By the end of the show, I left the auditorium feeling full of the Christmas spirit (despite the 70 degree temperature in St. George), with a light heart and ready to crank up the holiday music.
I highly recommend Plaid Tidings for anyone in the St. George area between now and December 29, if you’re passing through Southern Utah, it’s worth the stop off. It’s even worth a special trip if you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the snow and feel some sun on your face in the next month.
! This show runs Nov 23 – Dec 29, 2012 in the Cox Auditorium at Dixie State College, Weds, Thurs, Fri & Sat Evenings – 7:30 PM, with matinees (Fri & Sat Only) – 2:00 PM. Tickets are $24.50- $34.50. Box Office 800.746.9882 or 435.652.3300.