By: Anita W. Harris
Do you have an attitude of Plaid-itude? Then you’ll fit right in at Forever Plaid, continuing at International City Theatre through March 5. Clad in plaid or just plainly, you’ll giggle with glee hearing heavenly harmonies by four young men reunited for their first and final concert.
Co-Director Scott Dreier notes that this production of the popular off-Broadway musical is “just getting back to a simpler time,” more aligned with playwright Stuart Ross’s original vision. That time is 1964, when all four Plaids were sadly killed after a bus carrying girls from a Catholic school hit their car, leaving the girls unscathed. The tragic irony is that the bus was taking the girls to the Beatles’ first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show while the Plaid lads were on their way to their first big performance at an Airport Hilton lounge. Perhaps that is why they are now miraculously allowed to return (through a hole in the ozone layer) to finally give the performance they missed (the lounge set in throwback style by Christopher Scott Murillo with 1960s-style lighting and wood paneling).
Accompanied by Jonathan Alvarez on bass and hammy music director Bill Wolfe on piano, the Plaids perform nearly 30 songs from the 1950s and early ‘60s. In between numbers, they reveal their backstories as four very innocent young men holding day jobs while practicing harmonies anywhere they can, including the stockroom of one of their parents’ plumbing supply store. Their love of these songs, such as oldies-but-goodies “Catch a Falling Star” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” infuses the show.
The chemistry among the four friends is palpably convincing. Each has a personal tic, like an ulcer or bleeding nose, and distinct personality that emerges humorously during the songs and in-between interactions. And all four performers are enthusiastic and engaging. Frankie (Travis Leland), the ostensible leader, ensures the others remember their cues and moves after so many years. Sparky, the most physically dynamic of the four, is played with verve by Jackson Hinden. Smudge (Robert Petrarca) carries surprisingly deep bass notes given his relatively diminutive size and large glasses. And Nick Tubbs offers boyish charm and vulnerability as nose-bleeder Jinx.
Starting out nervously in white jackets, the four become increasingly Plaid-ified and confident as the show continues. A turning point is their performance of the weighty work songs “Sixteen Tons” and “Chain Gang” (Petrarca sounding the very low notes), adding welcome depth to the lighter love-song playlist. Our appreciation for the boys also grows as their stories and personalities unfold while they sing their hearts out for us.
By the end, we are sad to see them return to heaven, but glad to have experienced their once-in-a-lifetime performance with them. How they bravely reconcile themselves to their fate and relish being able to live out their passion for harmonies– if only for a short while– is a good lesson for all of us.
Forever Plaid is not a deep play, but it’s certainly entertaining, amusing and heartwarming. Even if you don’t know all the songs, you will surely enjoy these four young men sweetly crooning the notes of a bygone time, forever relived here.
Forever Plaid continues at International City Theatre, 330 East Seaside Way, through March 5, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $47 to $49. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 436-4610 or visit ictlongbeach.org.