BWW Review: FOREVER PLAID at Theatre In The Park
"Forever Plaid," now playing at Theatre In The Park's indoor facility at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, is a very pleasant excuse to spend an evening stepping through a gentle time warp and into an entirely different musical experience.
Follow me back to the iconic year of 1964. America is shifting from post World War II euphoria to something a bit darker. John Kennedy's presidency has ended violently and a certain innocence ends with it. Tonight, The Beatles (John, Paul, George, and Ringo) will appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show" for the first time. Not far away, a school bus, loaded with parochial schoolgirls, heading for the Ed Sullivan Theater collides with a Mercury sedan crammed full with a just-starting-out harmony quartet on their way to an early paying gig. The quartet (The Plaids) dies in the accident. The schoolgirls survive, but miss The Beatles debut.
Decades pass and the souls of the quartet float in the ethos of purgatory waiting to perform their special show. Miraculously, The Four Plaids re-materialize in our theater anxious to share all that music rehearsed in the storage room of a plumbing distributorship. The four are dressed resplendently in white dinner jackets, striped slacks and plaid cummerbunds with matching bow ties.
The Plaids are the lead Frankie (Fisher Stewart), shy first tenor Jinx (Jordan Haas), baritone Sparky (Jacob Jackson), and the bass bespectacled Smudge (Jaren Miller). Together and individually, these four sing and dance their way through music one might have heard and loved from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s by groups like the Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Ames Brothers, or on Perry Como or Ed Sullivan.
For those of us old enough to remember the context and connect with the jokes, "Forever Plaid" is nostalgic. For everyone else in the almost full house, it is an introduction to a much gentler and more harmonic time. The Plaids run us through some of the classic music of the period including "Three Coins In The Fountain," "Moments To Remember," "Perfidia," "Sixteen Tons," "Catch A Falling Star," "Heart and Soul," "Lady Of Spain," "Rags To Riches," and "Love Is A Very Splendid Thing." In all, the group performs eighteen different songs or amalgamations, each with its own pleasant choreography or theme with costume changes.
Onstage with the group is the three piece combo "who came with the room." They are conductor (and on keyboards) Michelle McIntire, Bill Wood on bass, and Jonah Vainerere on drums.
As has come to be standard at the Heritage Center's Black Box Theatre, the set by David Powell is more than could be expected. A starry backdrop is fronted by a three level platform system with the band on its own stage left level, a main platform, and another in the shape of a giant vinyl RCA Victor Record complete with the image of Nipper and his Gramophone on the label.
Director Jay Coombes has cast this show perfectly. The Plaids are age appropriate (late teens and early twenties). And these boys can sing, dance, and manage to blend beautifully. Director Coombes adds enough choreography, stage content, and business to string together all the songs meaningfully. He evokes Perry Como, the Ed Sullivan Show, and the swinging Caribbean sound in about ninety minutes of entertainment.
"Forever Plaid" was an off Broadway concept piece from Stuart Ross that went through several iterations in the late 1980s before maturing to its present form. This is one of those small shows that has a life of its own... seemingly always running somewhere. I first saw it over a Christmas holiday about twenty years ago in Las Vegas and was thoroughly charmed. I must also admit that the Johnny Carson plaid sport coat that I was wearing when we brought my daughter home from the hospital forty-five years ago still hangs in the front closet. I can no longer get into it, but the plaid survives and so does this show.
You know, except for the collision with the school bus, The Plaids could have been big.
"Forever Plaid" completes its third and closing weekend on May 5 at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center on Metcalf Road in Overland Park. Tickets are available on line at www.theatreinthepark.org or by telephone at 913.826.3012.
Photos courtesy of "Theatre In The Park"