BWW Review: FOREVER PLAID Hits a High Note at the Lamp
Anyone staging Forever Plaid must walk a fine line- the show has to be good, but not TOO good. Rather, the show has to be professional, but not TOO professional- if it has too much polish, too much note-perfect efficiency, the whole vibe will be disrupted. FOREVER PLAID, which is neither a musical nor a cabaret but somewhere in between, has more in common with the early years of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (particularly Bill Murray and Gilda Radner as The Nerds), eschewing belly laughs and gags for gentle, rambling character humor. The point here is not "nerdy boys singing," but how well those nerdy boys sing when they truly come together and commit to it. As such, director Allison Petrillo's deliberately rough-hewn production hits all the right notes, seemingly hanging on by the seat of its pants when really everything is in control.
The plot- what little there is- tells of the Plaids, a four-man harmony group whose music is past its prime in the early 1960s. Killed in a bus crash, the Plaids are resurrected for one night only onstage, to both sing pre-British Invasion golden oldies and work out their unfinished business. And sing they do, with the melodic four-part arrangements of James Raitt.
Mickey Orange, as the group's straight-man and de facto leader Frankie, has a rich, round voice that is surprisingly period-appropriate to the pre-rock standards the Plaids sing. He also gets the gift of performing the "perfect chord" monologue, one of the few genuinely great speeches in musical theatre. Orange is a first-time Plaid in a cast of veterans, but you'd never guess it. The rest of the Plaids get to clown a little more, fitting for three regular members of local "actors who sing" focused company Split Stage, but as Plaid veterans, they nail their solos and harmonies as well as their characterizations.
Part of the fun of FOREVER PLAID is watching the boys come out of their shells, embracing the performers they could have become with more polish and confidence. Josh List's nosebleed-prone Jinx comes out of his shell when he takes on Johnnie Ray's "Cry," and Smudge, as played by Rob Jessup, embraces his inner Tom Jones by the final curtain. Only Sparky, played by Lamp fixture (pardon the pun) Bill Elder, remains blissfully unchanged by the end, a kind, simple fellow who just likes to sing for the joy of singing.
There is bumbling and awkwardness to spare in Petrillo's staging of the show- but this is natural. It is, in fact, good. If the Plaids weren't a little bit awkward... No, let's come out and say it, if the Plaids weren't losers who amounted to nothing in life, their success would not feel as sweet. FOREVER PLAID isn't the story of underdogs getting their due and finally coming out on top, it's the story of four people reclaiming their self-respect and humanity, even if it's a little too late.