Forever Plaid, written by Stuart Ross. Directed by Trey Compton. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Joey Alan as Frankie, Ricky Gee as Sparky, Andrew Pace as Smudge, Andrew Martinelli as Jinx; photo: provided
"from the Oster Blender School of Music"
show poster for "Forever Plaid"
On February 9, 1964 The Beatles first appeared on live television in the United States on The Ed Sullivan Show. That same day, en route to a first major gig, The Plaids were killed in a freak car accident when their vehicle was sideswiped by a bus full of Parochial School kids. Literally a virgin death. For that reason you probably have never heard of this boy group, this close harmony quartet who never made an album, did a TV show or got a radio deal. They died while rehearsing their act finale, "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing." Such beautiful men with such beautiful voices were taken from us on the brink of a major career. Sad.
That is the premise of the musical, "Forever Plaid" now on stage at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York, where the quartet has been granted a heavenly reprieve for one night only. If you are among the privileged few to be in the audience you will discover for yourself how much was ripped from our grasp just at the moment when America needed its own fab-four to keep the music at home. And what music! "Perfidia," "Cry," "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Lady of Spain" and "Rags to Riches," to name just a few. Eighteen songs and some snappy patter, sympathetic dialogue about the realities of life in the early sixties and life now, audience participation and a sing-along make this a show you will remember forever. Plaid.
Ricky Gee and Andrew Martinelli are half-brothers Sparky and Jinx who grew up in a weirdly dysfunctional family and developed a love for singing together at an early age. Their friends Frankie, played by Joey Alan, and Smudge, played by Andrew Pace, are the other half of the quartet. All four men are talented but they are always at their best when the solo stops and the harmony resumes. For this excursion into musical delights they have been provided, as ghosts of their former selves, props to play with that arrive in surprise packages, reminiscenses of Perry Como, and a pair of costume changes to assume for a tribute to "Scotland the Brave" and in which to sing their never performed, but beautifully described by Frankie, finale.
Alan, Gee, Pace, Martinelli; photo: provided
The show includes a tribute to Calypso music as well as a hilarious three minute precis of The Ed Sullivan Show including the flying Wallendas, Topo Gigio, and the animal and juggling acts that made television a vast wasteland. With Matthew Russell at the piano and Michael Webb playing bass, the show is a non-stop treasure of images and sounds of that era when I was growing up. Be sure not to confuse the close harmony of this group of singers with traditional barber shop singing. They are not the same thing.
All four, or six, men deliver ideal performances, quirky, funny, deliriously musical and sometimes a bit sentimental; expect an occasional tear. Trey Compton has directed this musical play with sensitivity and a sense of humor. It is impossible not be caught up in the very real and very silly premise of the show and that is a tribute to everyone involved. Compton's work here is very important in keeping the right tone going all the time. Luckily he seems to have a group of young actors who would rather maintain their inner and on-stage alliance right rather than try to out-shine one another.
Allison Gensmer's costumes are almost their own characters as alike as they are. Abe Phelps small concert hall setting is ideal for the show and Allen Phelps lighting design is lovely in its sensitivities.
All the way from A-sharp to G-flat this is a lovely 85 minutes of concert theater. It's hard not to like the songs and the book serves as a comfortable vehicle to transport them all to us. We are a sort of grandma receiving gifts from Little Red Ridinghood with no wolf to get in the way. We couldn't be happier.
Forever Plaid plays at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through August 7. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go on line at www.theaterbarn.com.