If you like four guys singing in close harmony, if you like late fifties, early sixties pre-Rock n' Roll, pre-Beatles straight and slightly square tunes, and if you like campthen you'll like "Forever Plaid". And until February 18th, The Bristol Riverside Theatre will take you back to a time of harmony, innocence and chaperoned proms.
The Plaids, a four-man a cappella singing group, (Sparky, Smudge, Jinx and Frankie) are killed at the start of their career when their car collides with a girls' parochial school bus. Having presumably led short and unblemished lives, all four boys go directly to heaven and are granted one wish. Their wish is to come back to earth and perform the "big concert" they never got to give. That's the flimsy but funny excuse for our theatrical evening.
The real stars of this show are the arrangements by the late James Raitt. Mr. Raitt takes some very old and hackneyed songs and gives them major face lifts. Some like, "Shangri-La" are simply pretty to listen to while others are just hysterically silly. One of the more amusing moments is when the Plaids do "the Beatles"a squarer version of "She Loves Me" you will never hear. (Nor a whiter version of "Chain Gang"the clang of the chain is made by the tap of a spoon on a Heinz's Ketchup bottle.) But the true highlight of the night is when the boys reincarnate the Ed Sullivan Show. In a number of inspired lunacy, "Lady of Spain" is played while they recreate all the most memorable acts that appeared, from Ed himself (well done by Richard Rowan) to Topo Gigo, Senor Wences, the seals, the opera singers and the jugglers complete with spinning plates.
Not being a fan of this musical genre, I found it was slow going for me at first, as the piece itself is little more than a review of old tunes linked together with campy schtick. But thankfully, there is no intermission and the piece builds nicely to the Ed Sullivan segment. By that point the audience has been won over and we relax with the predictable denouement as the Plaids sing their farewell to the audience they have grown to love and are reluctant to leave.
The cast, picked for their youthful appearances and their ability to blend well as singers seem to function better as a group than as soloists. The only exception being Richard Rowan as Smudge, the lugubrious bass who holds his own both as a singer and an actor. His "Sixteen Tons" is a welcome moment, and his "Rags to Riches" rendition made me laugh out loud.
The choreography by Sharon Halley (which consists mostly of hand gestures gone awry) is full of corny, visual gags and is in keeping with the style of the show. The costumes by Alan Michael Smith are simple and striking and the accompaniment is well provided by Mark Yurkanin on piano and Bob Garguillo on bass.
There is an audience participation part of the show where an audience member is asked to help play "Heart and Soul" on the piano. It is very funny and smoothly accomplished. The show seems to have great appeal not only to the older baby-boomer crowd, but also to the younger members of the audience. Dylan, my eleven year old son laughed his head off and remained completely entertained. Well, when the four Plaids don plaid arm ruffles and straw hats and "Go Caribbean," it can't help but tickle anyone's funny bone.
For tickets call the Box Office (215) 785-0100 or log on to Bristol's Website at: