Theatre — 'Plaid'

‘Plaid’ is a campy, nostalgic night of fun

 

By Michelle Saturley [listings@hippopress.com]

 

The Palace Theatre’s production of the musical comedy Forever Plaid is a silly, touching homage to the boy groups of the ‘50s.

The show’s four talented actors, led by the Palace’s proficient resident director Carl Rajotte, make the material and the sentiments behind it come alive.

The show begins as the audience learns that in 1964, four boys in eastern Pennsylvania, known professionally as Forever Plaid, are on their way to the biggest gig of their singing career when they are slammed broadside by a bus carrying a gaggle of Catholic school girls, who are on their way to witness the American television debut of The Beatles at the Ed Sullivan studio. The girls escape the accident unscathed—the four lads are killed instantly.

After 40 years in some sort of metaphysical limbo between heaven and earth, the boys are granted one last wish: to come back to Earth and perform the concert they never did in life.

The guys of Forever Plaid are hopelessly geeky and completely adorable. Each actor infuses his character with a unique and winning set of characteristics. There’s Sparky (played by Jeffrey Victor), a spazzy kid with a speech impediment and a good mind for business; Smudge (Josh Noble), the bass singer of the group who’s a bit of a goofball but also very sensitive; Frankie (Adam Kemmerer), the most suave, philosophical member of the group, which isn’t really saying much; and Jinx (Daniel Robbins), the most shy of the boys, who is prone to nosebleeds when excited.

Not only do the actors succeed at portraying the four distinct personalities that make up the group, but they also sing the four-part harmony arrangements as if they’ve been performing together all their lives. The show is chock-full of music, and these guys tackle every single number with zeal. The songs are constructed so that each member of the quartet gets a chance to shine. Standout numbers include Robbins singing the lead on the old hit standard “Cry,” and Noble’s rendition of the Tennessee Ernie Ford classic “Sixteen Tons,” accompanying himself on a ketchup bottle.

Another side-splitting bit is the re-enactment of the best-known moments of the Ed Sullivan Show—whittled down to about three minutes. This madcap dash includes snippets of Topo Gigio, the June Taylor Dancers, Señor Wences and the plate-spinners and circus acts that were the staples of the show. The cast uses some zany props and character voices to great effect.

Director Carl Rajotte infuses every song with fun, goofy choreography that gently parodies the music of that era without being too jaded. Rajotte obviously has great affection for the songs and performers, and has made sure that his young actors appreciate it as well. It is the actors’ understanding of the material that enables them to capture the spirit of the show, and Rajotte deserves credit for this.

The set and lighting design are simple, but effective. The premise of the show is, after all, a concert, and the set decoration keeps this in mind. The mirror ball lighting and bubble machine effect at the end of the show are both consistent with the lighthearted, campy ambience of the evening.

Probably the most enjoyable part of the evening for me was observing how much the audience, most of whom were old enough to remember the era, enjoyed the show. Three ladies next to me knew every single song and hummed along. They gave the actors a ringing endorsement on their sound, which is about the highest praise they could receive. After all, these ladies heard the originals—they should know.

Forever Plaid runs one more weekend, September 24 and 25, at the Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover Street. For tickets, call the box office at 668-5588 or go online at www.palacetheatre.org.
 

—Michelle Saturley

 
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH