The hit musical “Forever Plaid,” originally written, directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross, guided the audience on a nostalgia-based trip down memory lane through performances of a variety of doo-wop hits from the 1950s to early 1960s on Friday night at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont.
The play, in which four male singers are given a second chance to fulfill their musical dreams from beyond the grave, began in a practically pitch black setting. As The Plaids ambled toward the stage, their path illuminated by candlelight, a narrator revealed that the group had emerged from a music-less abyss where it had been waiting in a purgatory of sorts for 40 years.
As the story goes, the group’s dreams abruptly ended in 1964, while they were traveling to pick up tailor-made plaid suits for the biggest night of their careers. In a moment seemingly symbolic of the end of a decade, the group was instantaneously killed in an accident when their car was onslaught by a busload of giddy, Catholic schoolgirls en route to witness The Beatles’ legendary debut performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
It is later revealed that Sparky, played by Steve Gunderson; Smudge, played by Ryan Drummond; Jinx, played by Kevin McMahon and Frankie, played by Robert J. Townsend, first met in high school after taking up membership in the audiovisual club and were instantly united upon discovering their common interests in music and singing. The quirky quartet then formed a doo-wop group, modeled after those of their musical idols such as The Freshman and The Four Aces, in hopes of attaining musical success, riches and acclaim. They called themselves “Forever Plaid,” a namesake embedded in the customary ideals of family, home and harmony.
The premise of the play involves the group returning to earth for one final performance and the chance to fulfill its grandest dream.
“Forever Plaid” is seemingly symbolic of the ever-evolving world of music. Beatle-mania, followed by the British Invasion, marked the fall of doo-wop and the rise of rock and roll, as its fast-paced beats and rhythms, earth-shattering guitar riffs and long-haired vocalists slowly but surely took over the American music scene and won the hearts of teens everywhere.
The audience is witness to the personal struggles involving stage fright and anxiety that The Plaids must overcome before proving to themselves and the audience that they really had possessed the talent necessary to strike it big in the music business. For example, Jinx’s musical breakthrough is reached during his performance of “Perfidia;” he sheds his timid exterior and reaches vocal ranges presumably only feasible in heaven.
The Plaids ultimately perform the concert of a non-lifetime.
A highlight of the evening was the group’s comedic rendition of “Day-O,” during which the stage was transformed into a Mexican Cabana, as the Plaids dawned sombreros and ponchos, and distributed bananas to select audience members. “Chain Gang,” during which Smudge’s vocals reached impossible lows as he mimicked the sound of men working on a railroad by tapping a silver spoon against a Heinz ketchup bottle, was also an audience favorite.
The Plaids also kept the audience entertained with quick-witted bouts of comedic humor, often interacting with its members during the course of the play, and with well-rehearsed renditions of such musical hits as, “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby,” “Catch a Falling Star” and the Beatles’ classic, “She Loves You.”
Between songs, the Plaids built connections with the audience by sharing their fondest personal memories of earth, which ranged from a beloved record collection, Sunday nights spent watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” with family and a chance meeting with Perry Como.
Gunderson, Drummond, McMahon and Townsend were very convincing in their portrayals of The Plaids, as feelings of actual sentiment for the music, one another, and the prospect of life after death shone through each actor’s performance.
“Forever Plaid” is a sure-fire hit, guaranteed to inspire hope and the motivation to chase one’s own dreams in audiences everywhere. The play provides proof that dreams can be fulfilled, even after something as life altering as death, and although the music of the 1950s is now a distant memory, the audience is made aware that it will continue to live on forever in the souls of the Plaids and in true fans of doo-wop’s role in rock and roll history.
Although tickets are a little on the pricey side, audience members are in for a treat. One ticket buys a fun-filled night of musical comedy, a smorgasbord of delicious gourmet foods, and musical gems circa the late 1950s to early 1960s, as well as a stroll down memory lane with The Plaids.
“Forever Plaid” will run until October 9.
Jessica Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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