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Review: FOREVER PLAID: PLAID TIDINGS USHERS IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS at Straz Center For The Performing Arts

Review: FOREVER PLAID: PLAID TIDINGS USHERS IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS at Straz Center For The Performing Arts

This is the first of 3 Straz Produced Offerings this Season... showcasing Local Bay Area Talent.

"We are in Tampa...Again..."

"We all get a chance to spread a little harmony..."

Forever Plaid is an Off-Broadway Musical Revue that was first performed in 1989 in New York, and was written by Stuart Ross. Now the show is performed Internationally. The show itself featured Stan Chandler, Guy Stroman, Gabriel Barre, and Jason Graae in the 1989 New York Cast. While James Raitt was responsible for the Musical arrangement, vocal arrangements and music direction, the show was Directed and Choreographed by its writer Stuart Ross.

The Musical Revue was produced into a feature film, which was released in 2009 starring two of the original cast members (Chandler, and Engel)and Larry Raben and Daniel Reichard as Sparky and Frankie respectively. Fans of the show will notice that in the film adaptation, "The Golden Cardigan," and "Catch a Falling Star," were omitted.

Now for all intensive purposes, Plaid Tidings is the show being performed at The Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, but if you are not familiar with Forever Plaid, I felt it appropriate to give some history on the show that started it all.

Plaid Tidings is a sequel to the original story featuring adapted stories and songs. Both The Pasadena Playhouse and the Neptune Theatre ran performances of Plaid Tidings.

This jukebox style musical revue uses quips and musings, as well as songs featured in the 1950's in hopes to bring in the Spirit of Christmas and Joy to its attending patrons. The Plaids as they call themselves, are invited back to Earth for one night only to perform a show they never got to perform. You see their lives were tragically cut short at the result of an auto accident. If you have seen Forever Plaid you will know this follows the same plot as its predecessor, just throwing in the occasional "Christmas," or "Hanukkah," and singing a few Christmas Carols made famous in their eyes by the great Perry Como.

Though the plot is familiar minus the occasional Christmas tune, the performances themselves are exemplary. I think there in lies, why the Straz Produced Programming is so great. The use of local area talent and designers to produce top-tier live theatre. The foursome of Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings doesn't get any better than this.

No stranger to area stages as well as regionally, Aaron Castle as Sparky is exceptional. he is truly in his element here, and it goes to show the level of silly that he is willing to go. This is what makes Sparky work, the ability to throw caution to the wind and just go for it, and Aaron does just that. Add in his impeccable vocal abilities, and you have a top- notch performance in your hands, and Aaron delivers tenfold.

As Francis or "Frankie" as he likes to be called Luis Rivera, has found his niche. Having last seem him onstage with Spanish Lyric Theatre as Michael in Tick Tick Boom, I was excited to see him take the stage again. The Rudolph moment in Act 1 is worth every price of admission. Always a smooth presence when he graces the stage, Luis should be very proud of his work, as his vocals are unmatched and he is the perfect Frankie.

As Jinx, Martin Powers, who I last saw onstage in Jobsite's Romeo & Juliet, is wonderful. From the nose bleed moments, to the Choreography, he is all in and it shows. Plus getting to hear him sing was also a highlight as I have yet to see him in a musical. Always a joy to watch on stage, Martin's performance as Jinx is outstanding from start to finish, from falsetto to head voice,Brava!

As Smudge, the incomparable Doug Buffaloe is a delight. Having last seen him as "Man in Chair," in MAD Theatre of Tampa's production of The Drowsy Chaperone, he proves to be finite here. He's is precise and tactical from start to finish. His vocals are outstanding, and his moments onstage, especially when telling us about the set design and "Under" and "Uber" dream is a highlight of the night. I always enjoy Doug's presence onstage and this is no exception. You have to experience first hand the moment in which Smudge removes his glasses.

Technically speaking, this production of Plaid Tidings is a marvel from set design, to costuming, to lighting, everything just works in a cohesive, collaborative way in which the characters can move about the space. Stellar costume work by Anne Acosta brings the world of the "Plaids" to our worldview, and the work really shows. Lighting Design by Jo Averill-Snell help evoke the world in which the story lends itself to, and it does so masterfully. The Set Design is a beautiful rendition of what could be an old-time television studio. Though no set designer is credited in the program the brilliant work of Technical Director Chris Pyfrom, and Scenic Artist Tea Roberts, go hand and hand seamlessly to create the world of the show. Props by Wren Beers help move the plot along and give the characters something physical to lend to the story.

Direction and Choreography by Steven Flaa, is steered like a ship guided by masterful hands. The pacing works, the audience interaction is a joy to watch and experience, and the four guys are just exceptional from start to finish. The 1st Act of the show does seem to lend itself longer than it needs to be, maybe that's due to familiarity. Here in lies the structural issue with Plaid Tidings. Now, this is no fault to the performers, the band, the crew, or even Direction...but rather the source material. Must we spend 45 minutes rehashing the events from its predecessor? I wish the first act ushered in more of the Christmas music, we are expecting to see, and hear, but don't fully get until the 2nd act.

The Band led by William Coleman is a wonderful addition. I always love the presence of a live accompaniment. I have always loathed the use of tracks or "canned music," as it doesn't allow space for error. it almost has a tendency to remove the viewer from the storyline altogether. This is not such the case here, with the use of the live band. William is exceptional on the piano and leads the men through the musical revue with skill and precision. Dan Kalosky on the Bass is wonderful to hear as well.

If you are a fan of Perry Como, and like the Christmas Carols made popular by him, or if you have a family member who enjoys the music of yesteryear, then Plaid Tidings is the ticket that should be at the top of your list. You can find out more information about Plaid Tidings and the other Straz Produced Programming by visiting www.strazcenter.org for tickets. If you won't take my word for it, take Rosemary Clooney's. However do make haste as the "Plaids" won't be around much longer. Onstage through December 24th, and this is one show you don't want to miss.

PHOTO CREDIT: THE STRAZ CENTER



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