Tuesday, May 09, 2017

“Forever Plaid,” a pleasant Jukebox musical @ Great Lakes Theater

What do “Motown the Musical,” ”Beautiful, the Carol King Musical,” “American Idiot,” “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia” have in common?  They are jukebox musicals; stage shows that use previously written songs as its score.  The songs are folded into a story-line.   

“Forever Plaid,” now on stage at Great Lakes Theater is one of the most popular of this ilk of musical theater, and has been produced over and over by professional as well as amateur theatres since it was first performed off-Broadway in 1989.

The show is a flashback to the close-harmony, “guy” groups of the 1950s.  Noted for their matching costumes, in-sync hand and body movements, they epitomized the clean-cut scrubbed wholesome boys of the era.  Think of The Four Freshman and The Beachboys. 

The “story” in “Forever Plaid” centers on four high school nerds (members of the AV Club), who dream of having matching plaid jackets, recording a hit album and becoming part of the “in” crowd. 

Their fame came to a screeching halt when, on the way to their first gig, their car was slammed into by a bus filled with virginal Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see The Beatle’s American debut on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” 

We meet the Plaids when, by some quirk of fate, they return from the after-life and find themselves on the stage of the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, OH.  They are here to have one opportunity to finally fulfill their musical dream.

They sing harmony renditions of such classics as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Moments to Remember,” “No, Not Much,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Perfidia,” “Cry,” “Heart and Soul,” “Shangri-La,” “Rags to Riches,” and “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” songs which the silver-haired oldies in the audience were singing along with.

The two-act, very short show (about an-hour-and-a-half with intermission), has musical and vocal arrangements by James Raitt, with book by Stuart Ross.  It was made into a movie in 2009, and a sequel, “Plaid Tidings,” with holiday songs, was written by Ross in 2002.

Playhouse Square had a long run of “Forever Plaid” from 1994-1996.  It was staged by the original conceivers.  Stewart Ross directed and musical direction was by James Raitt.  It stared Rex Nockingust, a stellar local singer/actor, a graduate of Baldwin Wallace College, and performer at many CLE theatres, who went on to play Matt in “The Fantasticks,” the longest running off-Broadway musical. 

The show has a strong Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater program connection.  It is directed by Victoria Bussert, the program’s director, who is celebrating her thirtieth year as GLT’s director of musicals, and a cast made up of BWU grads—Mack Shirilla (Francis), Andrew Kotzen (Sparky), Mickey Patrick Ryan (Jinx) and James Penca (Smudge).  Even the musical director, Matthew Webb, choreographer, Gregory Daniels, and many of the design team, are connected to BW.

The pleasant production’s singing is prime, the movements vintage, and the musical backup allows for the words to be easily heard. 

A former theater student cornered me during intermission and asked, “I thought Great Lakes billed itself as Cleveland’s Classic Company.  Why are they doing this show that I’ve seen at lots of community theatres?”  Hmm…Yes, its’ been around since 1989, but does that make it a “classic?”  Interesting question.

Capsule judgement: “Forever Plaid “is an escapist evening of theater, which is a pleasant trip back to yesterday, when clean-scrubbed boy singers waxed beautifully about the angst of young love, trips of fantasy and the mini-stresses of life.  If you like that kind of thing, this is a show for you.
“Forever Plaid” runs through May 21, 2017 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org