By Barry Reszel
The quartet’s tight, soothing harmonic blend supported by Maestro William Underwood‘s always-excellent orchestra is the key takeaway from Theatre at the Centre’s current production of Forever Plaid.
Matt Edmonds (Sparky), Adam LaSalle (Francis), Yando Lopez (Jinx) and Christopher Ratliff (Smudge) sing their guts out as a tribute to the guy groups of the 1950s (Four Aces, Four Lads, Freshmen, Crew Cuts, etc.) in Stuart Ross‘ jukebox musical.
But while songs like “Catch a Falling Star,” “Heart and Soul” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” are likely familiar to many, among the nits with this show is that this is a jukebox full of B-sides, albeit impeccably sung B-sides.
And when that’s combined with the 50s era, it’s hard to imagine the songbook’s appeal to folks beyond the senior sect who keep Paul Anka, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Eddie Fisher resident in their Spotify playlists.
That’s not to say everything has to be Hamilton-esque to be appreciated. Unfortunately, Plaid combines a low-energy score with a premise that attempts to walk the tightrope between comedy and melancholy.
A quartet of high school pals’ dreams of musical stardom is prematurely cut short when they are killed in a collision with a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles’ American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show (Let the virgin jokes begin). Somehow, the four return to earth, allowed to give at least one more performance—the one denied to them by their unfortunate accident.
So Forever Plaid is part self-realization of what’s happening to the four friends in reunion, an accounting of the backstory for the audience and the “final performance” itself. It’s generally sweet, but there’s an undertone of ethereal discomfort (they are teenagers who died in a car/bus accident) that keeps comedy at bay. Luckily, wise Director Brenda Didier keeps the story moving at a nicely paced clip.
Still, this opinion sees Forever Plaid coming up short in its quest to capture a period’s timeless elements in order to share them with another generation.
To wit, one illustrative scene features the four cast members taking their audience, rapid fire, through an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show. To be sure, it’s an iconic show that ran for more than 20 years and most people have some frame of reference to it. But flying through characters like Topo Gigio and José Jimenéz only serves to distance most contemporary audience members from the material (a person born the day of The Ed Sullivan Show‘s last production is 47).
All this said, though, TATC’s Forever Plaid team makes the very most of the material given them.
Jessie Howe‘s elegant unit set, with orchestra front and center; G. “Max” Maxin‘s luminous lighting; and Brenda Winstead‘s formal costuming all make the Plaids look as great as they sound.
And let there be no misunderstanding…sound great they do.
Theatre at the Center presents “Forever Plaid” through June 3 at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Guy Rhodes.