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Review: FOREVER PLAID is Simply Fun

Review: FOREVER PLAID is Simply Fun

And that's just swell

The 2020s have forced many of us to redefine the phrase "the show must go on". It has meant the bloom of digital theatre, an increase in understudy casting, and calls for shorter technical days. It's all a testament to the industry's ability to get crafty when it comes to problem solving. For example: what do you do when one of your cast of four gets sick right before opening night? You put him in a soundproof glass room and hook him up with a microphone, of course.

When director and choreographer Liz Gilroy came out on stage to announce the slight change in blocking ten minutes before the curtain was set to rise at Stage West Theatre, I had no idea what to expect from this production of Forever Plaid. If it were any other show, the answer might have been "a chaotic mess" but his fellow castmates didn't miss a beat and quickly adapted.

The show is a vaguely-plotted walk down memory lane as 4 vocalists (group name: The Plaids) wake up on stage, after dying in a car wreck in 1964, and finally get to perform the concert they never got to give. Featuring arrangements of classic doo-wop and one or two more "contemporary" works from the early 60s, it's 80 minutes of non-stop music and movement.

There's a bit of debate around reblocking when a member of the cast is suddenly missing. Do you fill in the gaps and act like one of you was always going to perform from the sidelines, or do you leave their space empty so the audience can fill their imagination with what the show could have been? I don't know that there is a right answer but, in my mind, consistency is more important. Throughout the performance, the cast flipped back and forth between the two and that, more than anything else, really pulled me out of the moment. I would get into a rhythm of looking back and forth during dialogue and then suddenly, an actor would place a hand on an invisible shoulder and I'd question whether I was meant to be watching only the stage.

I have nothing but admiration for these four vocalists. Not only is doo-wop and four-part harmony incredibly difficult, they managed to keep a fairly consistent blend while in separate rooms - and usually while running and jumping around the stage like the dorky twenty-somethings they were portraying. The love for this genre is so poignantly written into the script (originally created by Stuart Ross), the actors could have stood on stage reciting lines and you would still have felt that passion.

Mercifully, they did not.

The joys of watching live theatre include seeing the sweat pouring down performer's faces, from an acceptably social distance, and knowing that it's a combination of the powerful stage lights and the inexplicable desire to include live flames in a show about four boys who died in a car crash. Despite the 80-minute run time, and a visually unintriguing concept, the actors barely stopped moving. Every number was fully imagined, the vamping was built to be organic, and before I knew it, our time with The Plaids was over.

It was fun. It wasn't good, it wasn't bad; it was, simply, entertaining. The laughter was infectious, the music was impressive, the actors were insanely talented. It's honestly the type of theatre I want to see from Stage West - nothing flashy or big because, frankly, the stage is too small for a grand production. But strong performers, singing entertaining songs, telling unchallenging stories.

There is value in unchallenging stories. Having the ability to sit in a room full of strangers and tune out the world for a few hours - to share in something light-hearted while the world is burning - is an incredible privileged which, in my mind, is just as important as the theatre that reminds us that the world has always been burning. However, in unchallenging stories, it's even more important for those stories to reflect the audience. I long for the day when shows aren't written by and for "the good old boys".

This in no way detracts from the skill of the artists who created this production. From the props and costumes, the band, even the stage management who dealt with the horrifying ordeal of being known in order to keep the show running smoothly; I was very impressed with everyone's performance and adaptability.

I cannot express enough, the impressiveness of the four cast members. To sing such tight harmonies, to keep the energy going throughout, to keep half a mind on last-minute changes without losing focus: it takes talent. I appreciated that the four of them worked with the script to create individual characters with physical and vocal quirks that were fairly consistent throughout. I'm personally a sucker for a Bass so Devon Brayne (playing the nerdy Smudge) particularly caught my eye but genuinely, all four of them had moments (usually songs given the nature of the show) that held my focus like a teen at a Beatles concert.

This is the style of theatre I enjoy most from Stage West and Forever Plaid is a prime example of a quality production in that style. If you're looking for fun, nostalgia - even if it's not your own - and a night to forget your troubles, this is the place to go.

Forever Plaid stars Mark Allan, Devon Brayne, Graham Coffeng, and Seth Johnson. With direction & choreography by Liz Gilroy, and musical direction by Konrad Pluta. Costume design by Leslie Robinson-Greene, lighting design by JP Thibodeau, set design by David Smith, and sound design by Michael Gesy.

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From This Author - Vicki Trask

Vicki Trask is a Calgary-based writer and performer who has been a part of the theatre community since 2011. Previously, she wrote for OnStage Blog and is now incredibly excited to share her love o... (read more about this author)

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