BWW Review: Jump Start Your Holiday Spirit with FOREVER PLAID: PLAID TIDINGS at The Winter Park Playhouse
FOREVER PLAID: PLAID TIDINGS is a holiday sequel to the 1990 Off-Broadway show, FOREVER PLAID, written by Stuart Ross. I have not seen the original, but can now promise that it is totally unnecessary to have seen it in order to enjoy the heaven out of the sequel. It is an uncanny and unsuspectingly hilarious holiday musical. The underlying plot is quite bizarre, but the script is so well-written that it really didn't matter. The sequel continues from the original storyline, where a recently deceased, clean-cut male quartet has been sent back to earth (following an unfortunate bus accident with a group of Catholic schoolgirls headed to see Ed Sullivan); this time to bring harmony and good cheer to an inharmonious planet.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this unfamiliar holiday choice, but lacking expectations is often a great thing. I was most impressed by the humor throughout the entire evening. The script is full of one-liners... but it's the talented actors who really create the space for the constant laugh-out-loud experiences. I could envision some of the witty lines falling short with a less talented crew. The fabulous foursome includes Frankie, played by Kevin Kelly, Smudge by Todd Allen Long, Sparky cleverly portrayed by Michael Swickard and Jinx, played by Brian Wettstein. The cast has terrific on-stage chemistry. They remain connected from start to finish and their vocal harmonies are delicious. The clever tempo of the dialogue is constantly adjusting and always keeps you wondering what's next.
PLAID TIDINGS was directed and choreographed by Steven Flaa, who has taken part in countless productions of the show since its inception. Flaa's intimate connection with the show is an obvious payoff from the start. The choreography was impressive; the actors continuously used the whole stage to their advantage. The choreography was particularly clever in Fever in Act I and Cool Yule in Act II. The use of props was excellently orchestrated as well, especially in Carol of the Bells (using, of course, bells) and I'll Be Home for Christmas. Props have been known to make or break a show... they really made it in this case and created a more engaging audience experience.
I recall being very impressed with Kevin Kelly's performance in [title of show] a few years back and he continues to knock it out of the park. Kelly is completely committed to Frankie for the duration of the performance. He dives into a monologue in Act II focused on the underlying psychology of Rudolph and Frosty. I was floored by the spot-on psychosis Kelly portrayed as he described how and why these two holiday gems aren't exactly what we've always understood them to be. I would go to the show again, if only to see this unexpected, hilarious scene.
Swickard's Sparky is a shmoozy, charming sweet-talker. He has that one eye squinted, one mouth-corner curled up look going through most of the show. You know he broke a few hearts when he was back on earth. His vocals are pitch-perfect as well.
Wettstein was last seen at The Playhouse as the endearing Dick in DAMES AT SEA earlier this year. He is again lovable as Jinx and his semi-withdrawn take on the character nicely balances some of the other more audacious roles.
Long is always a crowd favorite and his subtle humor was on target for opening night. He's so great at delivering those one-liners with perfect, unassuming poise.
Christopher Leavy played a flawless role as the Musical Director and pianist. He was joined by two talented musicians, Ned Wilkinson on multiple instruments and Sam Forrest on percussion. I had quite a few favorite musical numbers in this show. Moments to Remember was the first belly laugh song where the cast recounts memories from FOREVER PLAID. Sh-Boom did not disappoint with its delightful harmonies. And then there was Christmas Calypso to close out Act I... if only holidays with the in-laws could be as whimsical as this number with palm trees, maracas and a rum runner. Finally, the audience was left with a nostalgic glow following the classic hit, It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.
The shimmery holiday set and perfectly square costumes add the final touches for a memorable evening. I noticed the audience laughing just a smidge more often than your average holiday show. So if you're on the borderline for a diagnosis of holiday blues, this show is definitely for you! As I was driving home I thought about why this show left me with a combination of giggles and the warm fuzzies. The answer is that the playwright and director managed to keep the humor and enthusiasm alive for two and a half hours whilst also adding just enough depth and meaning on why life is worth living. We weren't hit over the head with a holiday message, but it was just enough to leave a lasting feeling of cozy warmth.
The intimate Winter Park Playhouse is the perfect spot for a little holiday celebration. Ticket prices for FOREVER PLAID: PLAID TIDINGS are $40 evenings, $36 senior evenings, $30 matinees, $15 student and industry professionals. Also notable, "Student rush" offers $10 tickets for students 25 years and younger 10 minutes prior to a performance when seats are available. Call 407-645-0145 or visit The Winter Park Playhouse's website, http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org for ticket and more information.
Photo Credit: Vincent Gerace
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From This Author April Montgomery