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Chicago by John Olson

Plaid Tidings
Drury Lane Water Tower Place

Also see John's review of The Winter's Tale

Plaid Tidings
Paul Pement, Steve Whallem, Jason Sperling, and Drew Geraci
Chicago may be the city of broad shoulders, but with few exceptions, it is not a city of long runs. One of the exceptions was the musical Forever Plaid, which enjoyed seven years at the Royal George Theatre in the 1990s. It concerned a fictional clean-cut 1960s male quartet that was killed in a collision with a Catholic-school bus on the way to their breakthrough concert. They return to the living for the one-night concert they never gave. In this sequel, the group has returned a second time to fulfill some other dreams they never realized while living - like singing backup vocals for Perry Como and starring in their own Christmas TV special.

Plaid Tidings, which originated in California at the Pasadena Playhouse, was conceived and directed by Forever Plaid creator Stuart Ross. It's a holiday fruitcake of a show, with little bits of a whole lot of things thrown together in a pleasant, innocuous way. Though drawing heavily from hits and holiday songs of the forties and fifties, the boys are at times moved to anachronistically perform "The Night Before Christmas" in a hip-hop arrangement or unexpectedly segue from a swing standard like Steve Allen's "Cool Yule" into the dance steps from West Side Story's "Cool." Other unexpected medleys and transitions abound - like "Besame Mucho" into "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" morphing into the "Banana Boat Song" (in excelsis "Day-O"), complete with Christmas lights hanging from banana trees. In between numbers we have dialogue providing a lot of groaners trading on the afterlife status of the boys: lines like "I use post mortem moisturizer - it gets rid of the dead skin," and the lament that "eternity is ruined forever."

The second act is the stronger of the two. In addition to the "Cool Yule/Cool" number, it features a heartfelt tribute to the ultimate outsider, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (whose uniqueness we're told would've made him a great Plaid) and two extended pieces paying tribute to great TV variety shows of the era. The Plaids explain how they nearly sang backup for Perry Como when he was performing on a snowy night in Bethlehem (yep, Pennsylvania) then see their dream fulfilled by backing up a projection of the crooner singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas." This is followed by an ingenious tribute to the Ed Sullivan Show including the likes of jugglers, plate spinners, and Topo Gigio. The show closes with the quartet singing a sweet rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Four veterans of various Forever Plaid productions - Drew Geraci, Paul Pement, Jason Sperling and Stephen Wallem - do the honors admirably here. Plaid Tidings is a sweet and safe holiday entertainment that will be especially fun for those who remember the mid-century era. It may well join A Christmas Carol as a holiday standard (and cash cow) for local theater companies, but it would be much too Scrooge-like to deny the holiday warmth it will generate. For me, after exiting from the Drury Lane Water Tower Place Theatre into the middle of Chicago's brightly decorated North Michigan Avenue shopping area, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, indeed.

Plaid Tidings runs through December 31, 2005 at Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place, 175 East Chestnut Street, Chicago. Evening performances are Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and on select Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the box office, by calling 312-642-2000 or at www.ticketmaster.com.


Photo: Greg Kolack

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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