Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Forever Plaid"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


written and originally directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross
musical continuity supervision and arrangements by James Raitt
originally produced by Gene Wolsk

directed by Dale Sandish
musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg

Smudge … Logan Benedict
Sparky … Miguel Cervantes
Jinx … Andrew Giordano
Francis … Adam Souza

Piano … Jonathan Goldberg
Bass … Matthew Ambrose

“...for those who were white, middle class, American, 'twixt twelve and twenty during the Fifties and NOT rebellious, [Pat Boone] has a certain archetypal heaviness that can't be denied.” --- The New Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983 ed.)

“[Doris Day] was the home fire that refused to admit the cold war. ... She is easy to deride. But her fans were devoted and her energy was authentic. She was not sophisticated, but in the early 1950s that in itself was cool. ... Nor should it be forgotten that she was one of the first singers whose records were bought as "pop" by teenagers. I can remember girls who worked to look like Doris, and boys who responded warmly to those efforts.” --- David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (3rd ed.)

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Four continues to be the lucky number for the Stuart Street Playhouse --- its Second Stage opened its doors with its acclaimed production of JACQUES BREL (2 men; 2 women). Now, with MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL (4 women) happily settled in on the main stage, the Second Stage scores again with the “heavenly hit musical” FOREVER PLAID, where the Plaids, a close-harmony male quartet who died in a car crash in 1964 en route to their first professional gig, have been allowed to return to earth tonight to fulfill their engagement; their repertoire consists of standards from the 1950s --- the Cold War era had its tensions but its mainstream music was pure Dreamland: music to dance to, music to court by, music to fall in love and marry to (as the above quotes show, singers such as Mr. Boone and Ms. Day reigned alongside rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues). FOREVER PLAID captures the friendly, white-bread entertainment just before the times started a-changin’: highlights include the Plaids crooning a Beatles song; a hilarious montage of standard acts from the Ed Sullivan Show; and, of course, hit tune after hit tune --- great fun, even without female voices and out-and-out dance numbers. Director Dale Sandish cleverly evokes the Dawn of Lounge with its repertoire of cool or romantic gestures (the Plaids tilting their bodies and/or microphone stands forwards or backwards at 90-degree angles; their collapsing in mock-despair after an emotional rendition; their home-made sound effects; etc.); he may press the Nerd button once too often but his is a loving touch and there’s a definite heartbeat to the evening’s nostalgia.

The Stuart Street Playhouse also continues its lucky streak with its performers: a colleague who attended MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL and bought the original-cast CD afterwards ruled that the Boston cast is far better than the recorded one; after listening to FOREVER PLAID's original-cast recording, I can vouch for the local Plaids --- you couldn’t ask for a better-sung harmony quartet with Miguel Cervantes and Adam Souza as the group’s eager-beavers (or chipmunk and beagle, respectively), Andrew Giordano as the shy nose-bleeder (he floats some beautiful high notes), and Logan Benedict as the poker-faced bass with the Clark Kent glasses. They are also period-correct: their physiques are not muscle-heavy, they have not been Brille Cream’d into pinheads and they actually come off as virginal; when one of the Plaids mentions in passing that they were killed before any of them learned about love, it rings plausibly. As they settle in for (hopefully) an extended run of their own, the Messrs. Benedict, Cervantes, Giordano and Souza should deepen in their performances; under Mr. Sandish's guidance, they have the vocals and sweetness nailed down but seem abashed by all that corn and sentiment, settling for a light slickness, instead; I’ve reacquainted myself with the Four Lads’ recordings (one of the show’s sources) and am enchanted with their lush orchestrations (the Plaids boast a piano and bass) and their whole-hearted, full-throated immersion in their era’s culture --- again, welcome to Dreamland; judging by the Second Stage audience’s enthusiastic applause after each number, these young men and their director have nothing to be abashed or apologetic about. More corn, please.

Now, let’s see: what other four-character shows could find a home at the Playhouse? Well, there’s ROMANCE, ROMANCE and THE TAFFETAS, off the top of my head, along with any number of revues, cabarets and tributes that could be whipped up for the growing ranks of superb Boston-area singers. There’s safety in numbers so they say and “four” has been serving this particular company very nicely.

"Forever Plaid" (15 June-open run)
200 Stuart Street, The Radisson Hotel, BOSTON, MA
1 (800) 447-7400

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide