Forever Plaid

Theatre Huntsville is running a very fun production of Forever Plaid through next weekend at the VBC Playhouse.  While the production isn’t everything it could be, it is still an absolutely entertaining evening, and well worth attending.  While this production gets a B+ on the singing and choreography, and an A- on the gags and comedic bits, it still earns an absolute A+ on the overall entertainment value.  Some of the notes are outside the actors’ abilities to hit, but the majority of the time they are in their comfort range, and do very well with their blends, giving us some very nice renditions of these numbers from the 50 and 60s. The dance moves aren’t nearly as in synch as they should be, but it is still fun, interesting choreography.  The patter and comedy bits almost all hit their mark, and the audience very much enjoyed itself on opening night.

Forever Plaid is about a fictional four-part harmony group, The Plaids, who died in a car crash in 1964 on their way to the concert that might have been their first big step toward stardom.  For one evening, this evening in the theatre, they are allowed back from the afterlife to put on that show.  The evening is both an incredible rush for the boys, as their first performance in front of so many people, and sadly melancholy, as they realize that this is the only time they’ll do this.  As scripted, this show starts with incredible music, with almost every song requiring tight, four-part harmonies, but then it moves on to funny gags and touching moments.  At first we should be wowed by their singing, then giggling at their intentional and unintentional silliness, before starting to really feel for them and caring about them as individuals.  By the end of the show, we should be joyful for our 90 minutes with them in a darkened theatre, but also saddened The Plaids never got their shot at stardom.

The direction, by Elaine Hubbard, is well done throughout, making good use of the stage, and keeping things visually interesting. For the most part, the show is missing the small journeys of growth or maturing that each character is supposed to have over the course of the concert, but Hubbard still does a nice job helping each actor portray their distinctive characters, and keeping the show fun.

Marianne Windham’s choreography is perfect, but it needed a lot more rehearsal.  The Plaids are not, and never were a truly professional singing group, but we need to believe that they could have been, if not for their untimely deaths.  They are supposed to make some honest mistakes in their choreography, which provides some of the humor, but we need the sense that they are working hard to put on the best show of their lives, and the audience should accept that they really do have the talent for the big-time.  With the lack of tightness on the moves, the intended comedic mistakes don’t stand out as clearly as they should.  The choreography for this show is muddy throughout, so The Plaids do not appear to be anywhere close to being a polished group, ready to make its break into the big-time.  If even just the final number was clean and perfect, we would be able to buy into their dream of being multi-gold-album artists.

The music direction, by Lori Larson, is top-notch, lacking only a complete group of singers with the ability to actually sing all the notes required.  This is no knock on the performers–there is nothing they failed to do in preparing for their roles.  They each give it 110% effort, but they simply do not, as a group, have the vocal training necessary to meet the requirements of this show.  That said, the majority of the time, the songs are in their comfort ranges, and they sound simply amazing, with some truly beautiful harmonies.  As the accompanist and orchestra leader, Larson assembled an incredible group of back-up musicians for The Plaids.  Larson on piano, Fred Sayers on bass, and Terry Cornett on drums, together make a truly impressive band for the show, and well deserve their curtain-call accolades.

The individual performers truly do give this show their all, and the audience does love them for it.  Jacob Daugherty, as “Frankie”, appears to be the strongest singer of the group, or at least has the fortune of only being asked to sing in his comfort range, because he sounded clean throughout, and he nicely portrayed the most confident, self-assured performer of The Plaids.  Jason Lightfoot, as “Smudge”, can’t quite hit the bass notes he needs, but he does a fine job of playing the timid, unsure, shy member of the group.  Joshua Jones, as “Sparky”, is the only cast member not in high school, and we can see the age difference, but we are also willing to totally ignore that, because he appears to be having the most fun onstage, and really brings life to his performance.  Cameron Duvall, as “Jinx”, doesn’t have the vocal range to fully support the necessary high notes as first tenor, but he is probably the most relaxed performer on the stage, giving a very real, honest performance as the “good guy, boy next door”.

The set, by Scott Trites, is simple and straightforward, but exactly what is needed for this production.  The lighting, by Cynthia Meyer, is probably some of her best work in recent memory, excellently setting the various moods, and providing the special lighting needed for each song.  Sharon Griffin’s props are stellar, with everything perfectly serving its impressive purpose.  Marie Sexton’s costumes are a knock-out, and the reveal with the contents of the plaid box are simply amazing.  Gordon Williamson, manning the sound board, seemed to be dueling with the performers at the beginning of the show, as he tried to keep the microphones balanced, but that sorted itself out by the end of the show, and will likely be fine for the remainder of the run.  J. Travis Edwards, on make up and hair, should consider giving Sparky a slightly darker base, since he was noticeably paler than the other three members of The Plaids, but otherwise the character looks were perfect for the period.

The decision to add an intermission is a real head-scratcher, with no apparent pay-off for the production.  The “Heart and Soul” routine is supposed to occur during the band’s union break, not after it, and making the audience wait before seeing the last thirty minutes of the concert, just makes for an unfortunate break in the flow of the concert.  Given that theatre groups renting the Playhouse do not get a piece of the concession receipts, there seems to be no logical reason for breaking up the show like that.

Is this production of Forever Plaid everything it could be?  No.  Is it still a very fun evening at the theatre?  Absolutely.  Somehow, the whole is way better than the sum of the parts, and I completely agree with the opening night standing ovation.  Forever Plaid is running this weekend and next at the VBC Playhouse.  Ticket information and show times can be found here.

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