With the summer months heavily upon us, we find ourselves greeting each other with trite phrases like “Hot enough for you?” and leaving each other saying “Stay cool!”. Milburn Stone Theatre had a great alternative for those of you who were tired of sticking close to home because that is where the air conditioning was.
FOREVER PLAID, directed by Marshall B. Garrett, kept the audiences cool, both literally and figuratively. This 1990 original off-Broadway musical revue came to life and sound in the capable hands of Garrett. Although this reviewer happens to know he is too young to have “been there”, he did his homework and presented to the audience a funny, appealing, and affectionate tribute to the 1950s “guy groups (i.e., The Four Freshmen, The Four Aces). With their beautiful and often haunting harmonies, these four high school chums, Frankie (David Allen), Smudge (Russell Matthews), Sparky (Brett Pearson) and Jinx (James Mikjanic) performed with panache and sympathy. Each one of the Plaids showed us who “he” was and what “he” had brought yet the focus was always on the group. While at the start there was the voiceover which set up their appearance on stage, their initial audience interaction could have been done with a firmer hand so that their character idiosyncrasies did not overwhelm their lines. But with that said, there was everything to like about this production.
The Plaids gave the audience a trip down memory lane by using the language of the time after Korea but before Viet Nam. As is often said by social analysts, it was a time of courtesy and respect and youthful enthusiasm. While the Plaids disagreed with each other, the most descriptive word for it can be squabbling. There was no intent to damage or best the others. They were considerate of each other while still showing the ways in which each one hungered for that spotlight which drew them together in the first place. The script is full of these moments making it a warm and comfortable place for the audience to spend their time.
A.J. LoPorto is to be commended for the work done to provide the audience with these blended voices covering song genres from the calypso set through the working man’s set to a sincere and yet so wrong, cover of The Beatles’ “She Loves You”. His on-stage persona was visible and yet not detracting to the Plaid’s “show”. When the Plaids find their way over to the piano (when a union break is mandated) and engage an audience member , it left the audience rolling in the aisles.
Andrea Healy’s art-deco setting with the LoPorto piano on one side and guitar/drums on the other (played with great élan by Tom Collins and Tyler Bristow) provided an excellent frame for the Plaids final chance to achieve musical glory. Production lighting is usually successful with its subtlety but that was certainly not the case with what Conor Mulligan arranged to support this production. The color choices were cool in type, and yet the changes were dramatic and supportive. While a tuxedo remains a tuxedo as a way to appear formal and professional, there is something about a plaid tuxedo that simply makes you laugh. It was impossible to ignore Kelly Rice’s work required to gather properties for “Forever Plaid”. The Plaids needed everything from thick, black-rimmed glasses to long-stemmed plumbers’ helpers to the myriad quick change requirements for the homage-in-10-minutes segment of a 1950’s Ed Sullivan show with all of its vagaries.
Special kudos to Dane Hutchinson for the choreography. At first, it all appears to be dance moves created by young men trying desperately to be sophisticated; and then at some point while you are watching them, you realize that that is what you were MEANT to think. It takes skillful teaching AND skillful dancing to make it appear that you have been practicing these steps for a long time and yet for them to lack the smooth grace of later groups, i.e., The Temptations.
During this oppressive summer, FOREVER PLAID was the cool-est place to be, man, in Maryland.
by Stuart Ross
Directed by Marshall Garrett
July 15-17, 2011
Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive, North East, MD