WASHINGTON TERRACE — Forever Plaid is a jukebox musical written by Stuart Ross that was first produced in a small theatre in Manhattan in 1987. It made its off-Broadway debut in 1989 and since that time has played numerous community, professional, and semi-professional theatres all across the country. The show has even spurred a film version, the sequel Plaid Tidings, and a high school version. The story follows a male singing quartet that is in a fatal accident and must try and find a way to sing their way into heaven. The Terrace Plaza production, directed by Brady Stratton, who also played Francis in the production. He is joined by Matt Ford as Jinx, John Lee Roring as Sparky, and Jeff Duncan as Sparky.
To my absolute delight, the production features a live pianist (Katie Swainston) and bassist (Nathan Minert). Those who have followed my criticism have known that I feel that the value of any production is increased tenfold with the addition of live musicians, and this was certainly the case with Terrace’s Forever Plaid. Swainston’s and Minert’s musical prowess was evident throughout the production and gave it a level of professionalism that I appreciated. Music director Whitney Cahoon did a fantastic job combining the vocals from the four gentlemen with the live musicians to make a very musically elegant evening. Tight harmonies are deceivingly difficult, and Cahoon managed the task of helping the gentlemen manage this with great precision.
The choreography, by Paige Willmore, was fun, light, and simple. But nothing more is not needed in a show like this. The costumes, by Jim Tatton, are similar in every production of Forever Plaid, with the men dressed in matching 1950’s-style tuxedos. However, Tatton made some small touches, like changing bow ties in the second act, having plaid suspenders, and other small touches that I really enjoyed throughout the show.
Each of the players did an excellent job building a personality for their characters and making their own mark within the show. The story is rather silly, and there are moments where I found myself saying things like, “How does he have a nosebleed or asthma if he is dead?” However, once I let those moments slide, I was able to let myself remember that there is value in a show that exists solely for pure entertainment value. Not every show has to be one that is profound or intellectually deep.
One of my favorites of the cast was Jeff Duncan as Smudge, because I am a sucker for a good bass. (This is especially true for four-part harmony singing because without the strength in the bass, the entire chord falters.) I also really enjoyed the acting chops on Matt Ford as Jinx, who balanced skill with awkwardness in a very amusing way. John Lee Roring as Sparky did well as an overconfident tenor who seems to enjoy the spotlight maybe a little too much, and Stratton doing double duty as Francis and the director of the production seems to have managed that tightrope well.
The set construction, credited to the Fawcett family, was also fantastic and looked exactly like the inside of a 1950s diner. It added a nice ambience to the performance. Mark Ellis’s lighting, and the props (by Brady Stratton and Lindsay Stratton, the latter of whom is also credited as the assistant director of the production) completed the illusion of receiving a visit from the ’50s.
While watching Forever Plaid felt a little like eating a twinkie, the sweet and pleasurable moment was something that I needed. At a time when the world is in a lot of chaos and confusion, there is nothing wrong with some sweet fluff at the theater. In fact, there’s something right about kicking off 2022 with Forever Plaid.