Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2001
It is only fair for me to confess that I am a Plaidhead. This marks the 8th production of Forever Plaid that I have seen. Don’t ask me why I get such a kick out of this silly and harmless little entertainment, but I do, and I am of the conviction that everyone should make the pilgrimage to Plaidland at least once in their lives.
In the course of eight productions at seven different theatres in four states I have seen the good, the plaid, and the ugly. I know bad plaids when I see them and I am happy to report that the production of Forever Plaid playing through September 2 at Oldcastle falls in the category of Perfectly Good Plaids. In fact, if you have never seen Forever Plaid before, these might even be Great Plaids.
For the Plaid virgins out there, allow me to explain the premise of the show. Forever Plaid was a guys harmony group from eastern Pennsylvania. They were killed in 1964 as they drove to their gig at the Pittsburgh Airport Fusilounge when their cherry red Mercury was broadsided by a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see The Beatles make their U.S. debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. So they’re dead. But because of all this astrotechnical stuff and the expanding hole in the ozone layer they get to come back to life just long enough to give the concert they never got to give. Luckily, they sound a lot better dead than they ever did alive.
The late ‘50’s-early ‘60’s harmony tunes are catchy and the cast at Oldcastle obviously really enjoys the sounds they are making. In fact, if I had to quibble about this production I would say that it leaned too far towards being a real concert to the detriment of the very charming comedy and character development in the script. It is my own silly fault that I actually care about Frankie, Jinx, Sparky, and Smudge, but after seeing a parade of young men in those roles what is consistent for me are the characters, and I missed them a bit at Oldcastle.
What impressed me greatly at Oldcastle was the set by Kenneth Mooney. One reason Forever Plaid is mounted so often by small regional companies like Oldcastle is that it is a cheap show to stage and it draws a good crowd. You really just need four guys who can sing, a piano, a pianist, and four standing microphones. The mics don’t even have to work. The fact that Mooney had the vision and was given the budget to do a little more than that, building the Plaidness to new creative heights, was a pleasant surprise.
The vocal standout for me in this production was Nathan Stith at Smudge. Stith has a really great bass voice and it was a pleasure to listen to him. He also conveyed more of a sense of character than the other three did. Bobby Matteau came the next closest as Jinx, although he made the error of going for a completely optional high note that he couldn’t hit at one point. Joseph Kosek as Frankie and Shawn J. Davis as Sparky never really got in to character, but they sounded fine, and that is what really matters.
In my ongoing attempt to convert the entire world into Plaidheads like me, I brought four friends along who had never seen the show before and they all had a great time. Our party consisted of me and my 12-year-old son Brandon (who was making his 4th Plaid outing), two of my girlfriends, and two of his girlfriends. The younger girls were less impressed because they did not share the happy memories of the Ed Sullivan Show and other nostalgic references that us old broads did (just how DO you explain Topogigio to a 12-year-old??) but everyone had fun and no one was bored. Forever Plaid is a great family outing because it provides humor for the younger set, nostalgia for adults, and great music for everyone.
Forever Plaid runs through September 2 at the Oldcastle Theatre Company (802-447-0564), housed at the Bennington Center for the Arts at the junction of VT Rt. 9 and Gypsy Lane in Bennington. The show runs an hour and forty minutes with no intermission and is suitable for all ages.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001