Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The upbeat show tells the story of four clean-cut high school lads from the early 1960s. They are a singing quartet who call themselves the Plaids and dream of recording an album. Their only problem? When the show begins we learn they were killed in a car accident. The crash happened right before they could record their first record, when they were struck by a bus of parochial schoolgirls who were on their way to see the Beatles debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The girls survived but the Plaids did not. However, they've just returned from the afterlife for another chance at musical success.
The story by Stuart Ross doesn't really have much plot so it's important that the four actors playing the Plaids are not only able to quickly establish their characters as individuals but also harmonize perfectly together. Unlike past productions of this show that I've seen, Hale has chosen to cast slightly older actors to play the four men. Fortunately, the age of the cast never becomes an issue, since we're told early in the show that they have been waiting awhile for their chance to perform again ever since that unfortunate accident.
The show is an ensemble piece with each guy contributing equally yet also getting a chance or two to solo. Jere Van Patten gives Jinx a huge dose of fun comic sensibility and his solo on "Cry" is excellent. As Smudge, Brent Graham is hilarious in how he is continually mixing up his left from his right, and his deep booming solo on "16 Tons" brings the house down. While Tedd Glazebrook downplays Sparky's speech impediment a little more than other actors I've seen play the part, he provides plenty of energy and good vocals, with some richly delivered solos. Ben Mason brings an assured sense of showmanship to the part of Frankie, ensuring that this somewhat leader of the group keeps the foursome in line. Mason, like his co-stars, also has an abundance of charm and vocals that blend perfectly with his fellow Plaids.
Director/choreographer Cambrian James expertly stages the show in the "in the round" Hale setting, making sure that no one on any side gets left out of the many humorous and heartfelt moments with his continually moving cast. His ever changing choreography is fun, upbeat, and period perfect as well as specific to each song. He also makes great use of the space, especially the staircases, with several moments where the guys come out into the audience. Set designers David Dietlein and Brian Daily have created a raised platform that provides an excellent performance space for the Plaids "concert" yet still allows the audience to have a close connection to the foursome. Jeff A. Davis' lighting is superb in how it changes the mood to match the song and Mary Atkinson provides some excellent looking tuxedos with plaid accents. Music director Lincoln Wright delivers first-rate piano accompaniment along with expert playing from Stephen Tessier on bass and Peter Costa on drums.
Full of many humorous, sweet and touching moments, Forever Plaid is a nostalgic look back at the music and events from fifty years ago. It should be noted that, even if you didn't grow up in that time period or are not familiar with the songs, you will most likely still have a great time, as the show is charming and very funny. With four leads that vocalize together beautifully, a superb trio of musicians, and fun and imaginative choreography and direction, Hale's production of the show is a winner.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Forever Plaid runs through April 21st, 2015, with performances on Monday and Tuesday evenings at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181.
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James