By Daniel Skora
At some time, frequent theatergoers will surely cross paths with the Plaids, those four young men whose promising singing careers came to an abrupt end because of the fatal automobile accident they were involved in. And it’s also almost assured that those paths will be crossed more than once. “Forever Plaid” has been a performance staple for 26 years, the kind of show with a built in fan base and one that’s guaranteed to bring in the customers. It’s got music, great songs, comedy, a little bit of hoofin’, and lots of nostalgia. Also, there’s plenty of room in the script for directors to be as creative as they wanna be. Having seen many productions of “Forever Plaid” and its holiday version, “Plaid Tidings”, it should not seem unreasonable to have a little “Plaid” ennui set in.
You won’t be experiencing any ennui at the Meadow Brook Theatre where the show is currently in production. Director Travis W. Walter has crafted an absolute gem of a show that sets the “Plaid” bar so high, it may be “Forever” until anyone betters it. MBT’s production is entertaining, amusing, and exhilarating. It makes you wish that the Plaids could be allowed to come back for as many farewell concerts as they wish– all of them performed on this stage with these four performers and with director Walter and his production crew at the helm.
Every version of “Forever Plaid” is judged first by the talents and the likeability of the four young men that make up the cast. With Lucas Wells (Sparky), Garett Michael Harris (Francis), Ben Garrett (Jinx), and Maclain Dassatti (Smudge), Walter has struck gold. Not only do they have great voices, the requisite flair for comedy, and superb acting skills, they are great showmen and crowd pleasers as well. Walter and scenic designer Kristen Gribbin have given the Plaids the place they’ve always deserved but never seem to have gotten – a stage not only befitting their talents, but one that would fit handsomely into any Vegas showroom. Classically designed, it’s tastefully glitzy with only a hint of plaid, until, that is, the show hits its finale, after which all Plaid breaks out. The elegantly dressed on stage band (Matthew Croft – conductor and keyboards; Andrew Lloyd – Bass; and Nick Mathews – Drums) add to the sophistication. The Plaids may have been a group that never made it past performing at high school dances, but they’re certainly going out in style.
For those who have yet to be ‘Plaided’, the show pays tribute to many of the songs and artists that pre-dated the rock ‘n roll era and made the TV show “Your Hit Parade” a Saturday night must-see. Songs like “Moments to Remember”, “Three Coins in the Fountain”, “Rags to Riches”, “Jamaica Farewell”, and “Shangri-la” by artists like The Four Aces, The Four Lads, Perry Como, Harry Belafonte, and Tony Bennett are proof that the popular music of America is and always has been built to last. And it bears remembering that most of the songs are liberally sprinkled with the kinder, gentler brand of comedy that came with the fifties. If any song overstays its welcome, there’s always some good-natured humor waiting to make it enjoyable.
Even in a show that’s bound to hold your attention from start to finish, certain songs and routines stand out. There’s a spoof of the Ed Sullivan show, all 23 years of it done in 3 minutes and 11 seconds; a rousing audience participation version of “Matilda” to remind you that “island” music was once very popular; a fifties version of the Beatles’ hit “She Loves You” that shows had the Plaids been around in the 60’s, their 50-ish music would have still sounded great; and a routine where they sing bits of songs they might have sung had they ever been able to perform gigs at Weddings and bar mitzvah’s.
If you’re a Plaids fan, or if you’ve never seen the show but are looking for an evening (or afternoon) of fantastic theatre, or if previous versions of the show have never quite measured up to your expectations, Meadow Brook’s production is one that Ed Sullivan, in his own inimitable way, would undoubtedly call “a really big shew”. Go see it.
Costume design is by Corey Collins, lighting by Matthew J. Fick, and sound by Mike Duncan. “Forever Plaid” is written and originally directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross. The show runs through June 19th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook box office at 1.734.248.377.3300 or going online at www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in the city of Rochester.