The Old Globe has a history with Forever Plaid, having sponsored two sold-out runs of the show, and it still had the costumes on hand. So, the move looked like a nice adult alternative to the perennial How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was running next door. Stuart Ross even consented to direct the show.
So far so good, yes? Well, maybe not.
The set up is an easy variation on the original. A guy group that has been killed in an automobile accident with a bus carrying kids to see "The Ed Sullivan Show" in New York gets an opportunity to return to the living to do one last show. Only, in this version that one last show is taking place during the holidays, so holiday music has to be a part of it. The four Plaids (played by Leo Daignault, Jason Heil, David Brannen and Michael Winther) even (in their dreams) get to appear on the "Ed Sullivan Show" instead of the local Knights of Columbus hall.
The mushy silliness of the plot is tolerable if the audience is treated to great guy group singing. Unfortunately, this production features only adequate guy group singing. The performers are actors who sing, rather than singers who can play a part, so the singing sounds like four distinct voices instead of one tight quartet. There's a lot of sliding around and up to the pitch (which works ok in theater singing but not in choral style), and attacks and cut offs are sloppy. Lay the blame at the feet of music director Don LeMaster, a veteran of many local musical theatre productions. Associate Music Director Steven Withers on piano and bassist Tim Christensen do their best from the pit to keep things on track.
The rest of the production is fine, and the White Theatre once again proves itself as a good place to watch intimate musicals, despite its cramped seating. Globe regulars Sean Fanning (Scenic Design), Chris Rynne (Lighting Design) and Paul Peterson (Sound Design) make their work simple but effective, and Chris Luessmann's projection designs provide a welcome added dimension to the show's look and feel.
The kids are all next door at Grinch, but it does help your enjoyment if you've actually seen episodes of "The Ed Sullivan Show," as there's a lengthy segment that refers to most of that series' featured acts.
If Plaid Tidings doesn't satisfy completely on an artistic level, it does provide a certain degree of irresistible holiday cheer. Performances continue through December 26.
Through December 26 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($35-67) are available by phoning (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting The Old Globe's website.
The Old Globe presents, Plaid Tidings: A Special Holiday Edition of Forever Plaid, by Stuart Ross with vocal and musical arrangements by James Raitt, Brad Ellis, Raymond Berg, and David Snyder, and musical continuity and supervision by Mr. Snyder. The original Forever Plaid musical arrangements were by Mr. Raitt. Directed and staged musically by Mr. Ross with scenic design by Sean Fanning, lighting design by Chris Rynne, sound design by Paul Peterson, and projection design by Chris Luessmann. Don LeMaster served as music director, Deb Stein designed the original costumes, Samantha Barrie, CSA, did the casting, and Elizabeth Stephens served as stage manager.
With Leo Daignault as Jinx, Jason Heil as Smudge, David Brannen as Sparky, and Michael Winther as Frankie.
Follow Bill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SDBillEadie.