CENTERVILLE — I had the opportunity to watch Forever Plaid for the first time at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre on Wednesday of its opening week. Though I was not blown away by the underlying material, the performances were overall solid and the show was definitely a fun experience.
First, a little background. Forever Plaid is a musical revue written by Stuart Ross, featuring the barbershop quartet-style men groups of the 1950’s. Though the tone of the musical is light overall, it begins with the death of the four men in the barbershop group, “The Plaids.” The show fast forwards fifty-plus years to the present and the lights come on as The Plaids once again gain ghostly consciousness and are given a one-day chance to perform the show they had planned to perform on the night they died.
Though the musical is centered on music popular in the 50’s and is thus a revue at heart, the script doesn’t feel overly forced or coerced to fit the music. One of the artistic advantages of the way the show is written is that The Plaids are actually performing to the audience, so the songs don’t have to jive with some sort of meaning in the plot (a la Mamma Mia). In fact, the fourth wall is completely absent, as The Plaids interact with and even garner involvement from the audience—from singing along to lyrics, to getting people onstage to dance or even play the piano. It makes for an interesting audience experience—one not quite as informal or involved as dinner theatre, but not as detached as a regular show. Also adding to the uniqueness of the show is the fact that there is a talented three-piece band onstage accompanying The Plaids, a pianist (Melanie Shore), a bassist (Jake Bills), and a drummer (Kenton Jenson) to round out the sound.
The stage (designed by Ricky Parkinson) for the show was set simply—just a few crates on the sides holding equipment for The Plaids, four microphones, and an archway topping the stage which changed colors with various parts of the show. Costumes (designed by Jen Richardson) were commendably coordinated—in the first act, black pants, white dinner coats, red bow ties, plaid belt sashes, and even a red pocket napkin that pops up in a song or two. The second act arrives with a simple upgrade of costumes as a gift of grace to The Plaids, who always dreamed of putting on a high-level gig.
For the most part, the four Plaid members—Clark Wilson as Frankie, Ben Croshaw as Jinx, Matt Stokes as Smudge, and Jason Steed as Sparky—blended well with each other. “Moments to Remember,” “Cry,” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” stood out as the strongest pieces musically to me. My favorite songs for their choreography (by Liz Christensen) and acting included “Perfidia,” in which The Plaids all sport wonderfully horrible Spanish and dance with Latin flair; “Sixteen Tons/Chain Gang,” a song made complete with spoon percussion used to sound like the workers on the railroad; and “Lady of Spain,” in which The Plaids bring out a curtain meant to represent the Ed Sullivan show and then proceed to do a hilarious round of tricks—including eating actual fire.
The songs that needed the most improvement weren’t overall disasters, but rather pieces with missed opportunities throughout for blending and tight chords. Mostly, I noticed that the blend got better as the show progressed, as I felt some of the earlier songs, including, “Three Coins In the Fountain” and “Gotta Be This Or That/Undecided” were among the weaker numbers. The higher voices seemed to blend more easily than the lower voices, but all the songs were at least decent and there were no disasters.
Though the show is a revue and is thus centered on the music, the plot gave some room for moments of reflection on death, life, and missed opportunities. Director Anthony Buck did a beautiful job with these sparse but powerful moments of stillness as The Plaids were able to bring the tone down in simple moments and establish their characters. In particular, Wilson as Frankie and Croshaw as Jinx each acted their respective monologue moments with honesty and good emotional depth.
Overall, despite a musical hiccup here or there, I found the show enjoyable and recommendable, particularly as a fun “blast from the past” experience. This show appeals to the young and the old—with fun choreography, upbeat energy, and songs that remind us of a different era.
Forever Plaid plays daily (except Sundays) through February 8th at 7:30 PM with Saturday matinees at 2:30 at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre (525 N. 400 W., Centerville). Tickets are $17-22. For more information, visit www.centerpointtheatre.org.