Four clean-cut, witty young men croon to old tunes in Forever Plaid
Before fabricated, little-boy pop groups like ‘N Sync, prior to rock ‘n’ roll, rough and tumble heartthrobs like The Beatles, we had the gentleman bands with lads who could make your heart go pitter-patter in a peachy keen sort of way—bands like Forever Plaid.
Reno Riverfront Theatre’s Forever Plaid, directed and choreographed by Janine Burgener, makes us fall for such a serenading group of innocents.
The story of the band is less of a play and more of a cabaret-style musical concert in which dreamy boys in tuxedos strut their harmonious voices in a lounge-like theater. The theater is appropriately located in the lobby of the Club Cal-Neva Nevadan.
In 1964, the boys, Frankie (Grant Davis), Jinx (Hal DuBiel), Smudge (Bradford Ka’ai’ai) and Sparky (Chris Mullins), were on their wholesome way to pick up their plaid tuxedos when they were slammed broadside by a bus on its way to the Ed Sullivan show. The bus was filled with Catholic teens waiting to see The Beatles television debut. Fortunately, the teens survived and, opportunely for us, The Plaids did not. And this is where the show begins.
Because the characters are dead, there is a curious bit of confusion for members of the audience. I was not sure if I was also supposed to be dead, being that I could see these four dead boys, or if I was in an alternate dream dimension where the dead and the living are free to mingle for about an hour and a half on a Friday night. But it all became clear when Sparky explained that through a cosmic miracle—the combination of planets aligning, holes in the ozone and the resonance of their voices—they were transported back to Earth into 2002 where they are able to perform their last show for all eternity.
Considering they are an amateur band, the boys’ performance is crisp, well-choreographed and enthusiastic. All the boys are good singers, but when their voices crack and falter it is easy to forgive, for they never profess to be perfect, star-quality musical sensations. After all, they are only human … or ghosts … or something.
The show consists of about 20 complete musical numbers in which Forever Plaid performs a variety of classic ‘50s and ‘60s songs. Each performer’s voice is a perfect complement to the others. Frankie, the band’s glue (and lover of Sloppy Joes), is the second tenor. Jinx, who is into auto parts and making s’mores, sings it high as the top tenor. Smudge, collector of old records, has the most consistently stable and in-tune voice as the bass. And Sparky, who once stole Perry Como’s carburetor, is the baritone.
Between old-timey tunes such as “Gotta Be This or That,” “Crazy ’Bout Ya Baby,” “Sixteen Tons” and “Heart and Soul"—who even knew there were words to that song?—the members of the group joke, fidget, get bloody noses, drink milk of magnesia and have a generally flustered time.
Although the songs are often silly and charming in themselves, it’s the moments in between that make the characters most endearing. There is a lot of interaction between actors and viewers, making me forget I was watching a play. And the show hardly goes 30 seconds without earning a good laugh. Some more memorably funny moments are when Sparky reads lines off his hands to the love song “Perfidia,” when the band does a cover of The Beatles “She Loves You,” followed by the words “yesiree Bob” instead of the usual “ya, ya, ya” and when the group does their own three-minute version of the Ed Sullivan show, complete with jugglers, plate-spinners, nuns with ukuleles, puppets and Viking women belting out an aria.
Forever Plaid is a unique and innocent production in which four happy-go-lucky boys just want to prove themselves before passing onto the other side. Let them harmonize their way into your hearts before they are gone forever.