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Forever Plaid: Welcome to the Fifties

Forever Plaid

Written and originally directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross; musical continuity supervision and arrangements by James Raitt; originally produced by Gene Wolsk; directed and choreographed by Guy Stroman; musical director/arranger/orchestrator, Eugene Gwozdz; scenic designer, Howard C. Jones; costume designer, Joanna E. Murphy; lighting designer, Andrew David Ostrowski

Cast in order of appearance:
Sparky, Chris Crouch
Jinx, J.D. Daw
Frankie, Adam Halpin
Smudge, Kevin Vortmann

Performances: Now through October 7, North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly, Mass.
Box Office: 978-232-7200 or www.nsmt.org

If music soothes the savage beast, then the beautiful four-part harmonies sung by the talented quartet currently starring in Forever Plaid at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts could easily lull a stampeding herd into sweet domesticity. Modeling themselves after – and affectionately spoofing – the popular boy groups of the 1950s and early '60s, the fictional and mildly socially dysfunctional pre-cursors to the Jersey Boys sing 29 classic easy listening tunes that are loosely strung together by a  story that itself mocks the era's tragic teen love ballads.

Snuffed out in a car crash on their way to their first major gig, the Plaids – aka Sparky, Jinx, Frankie and Smudge – are miraculously brought back to life for a one-night-only opportunity to perform the concert their tragic accident prevented. With all the insecurities and hopes of fresh-faced kids whose rehearsal hall was the storeroom behind one of their father's plumbing supply store, the boys take the stage, tentatively at first, then with growing confidence as they realize that they truly did have something special.

These lovable nerds are quirky and shy when trying to bolster each other's moxie off-stage, but just put them in front of a microphone and they become as mellow and polished as their idol of the day, Perry Como. The wide-eyed Jinx (an appropriately wide-eyed J.D. Daw) is prone to nosebleeds when put under pressure, but when put in the spotlight to deliver his big tenor solo, Cry, he builds the number from a nervously constrained apology to a full-out belting tour de force.

Between numbers Smudge (the bespectacled and sensitively awkward Kevin Vortmann) staves off the pain of ulcers with Pepto Bismol, but when he lets his deep bass loose on the workingmen's chant, Sixteen  Tons, he becomes a powerhouse of proud determination. The asthma-ridden Frankie (all-around good guy and unassuming backbone of the group Adam Halpin) has no trouble controlling his breath or his fine baritone/tenor while leading a chorus of Chain Gang, his passionate counter melody to Smudge's Sixteen Tons.

Sparky (an exuberant and slightly dim Chris Crouch) is the ham of the group who also seems to be the most well adjusted.  His Perfidia is a fun-loving Vegas-style romp with the audience that simultaneously celebrates and ribs exalted lounge performers like Wayne Newton and Tom Jones. Later, though, he shows his sincere and vulnerable sides with first a lovely Catch a Falling Star tribute to Como and then a touching story he shares with Jinx about gathering around the television on Sunday nights at 8 to watch The Ed Sullivan Show with his family.

This warm-hearted bit of nostalgia leads into a riotously funny variety show rendition of Lady of Spain that has the boys running across the stage on fast forward re-enacting all of the iconic bits made famous by the long-running "really big shew." In a span of three minutes we are treated to appearances by an accordion player, a mariachi band, Groucho Marx, jugglers, magicians, a sharp shooter, trained dogs, ballet dancers, sock puppets, plate spinners, a Wagnerian opera diva, Senor Wences, José Jimenez, the Singing Nun, and Topo Gigio the Italian mouse. Even music director Eugene Gwozdz gets into the act, donning a tropical fruit hat á la Carmen Miranda. This number epitomizes the imaginative, endearing, and funny staging mounted by director/choreographer Guy Stroman and executed with great skill and panache by his four dorky but embraceable Plaids.

The entire evening is enhanced by the wonderful musical stylings of Gwozdz on piano and Ronald Mahdi on bass. Their sound blends perfectly with the boys' rich vocal harmonies, and their arrangements underscore the personalities of each group member and the mood of each song. Sets by Howard C. Jones and lights by Andrew David Ostrowski are playful and evocative. Stand microphones, wooden stools, prop-laden trunks, banana trees and multi-colored string lights are brought on and off fluidly to change the atmosphere from intimate lounge to concert stage, and centrally located lighted platforms of baby and royal blue tiles glisten as the show builds to its grand finale. Costumer Joanna E. Murphy also has lots of fun finding new and different ways for using the ever present plaid. Accents range from subtle tartan bow ties to eye-popping dinner jackets. In all of their various costume changes, the boys look simply marvelous.

Forever Plaid harks back to a simpler time when dreams were more innocent and the sheer beauty of the human voice was unadulterated by megawatt synthesizers and amplifiers. The North Shore Music Theatre production captures that essence joyfully. It's a delightful reminder that things don't have to be elaborate to be good.

PHOTOS BY PAUL LYDEN: J.D. Daw as Jinx, Chris Crouch as Sparky, Adam Halpin as Frankie and Kevin Vortmann as Smudge; Adam Halpin, J.D. Daw, Kevin  Vortmann, and Chris Crouch; Kevin Vortmann, Adam Halpin, Chris Crouch and J.D. Daw


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