When International City Theatre Artistic Director caryn desai gave her curtain speech outlining the season schedule, she emphasized that the show the audience was about to see is FUN; turns out that was an understatement. I pity those audience members who decided not to brave the torrential rainstorm that had the streets of Long Beach awash in water. This production of Forever Plaid provokes giddy laughter from the audience before a word is spoken or a song sung. When I think of musical comedy from now on, this show will top the list.
Written by Stuart Ross, with musical arrangements by James Raitt, Forever Plaid is a clever piece of fluff with an improbable story line about an imaginary male quartet that specializes in the many sappy songs of the fifties and sixties. It is the conceit of the story line that, as these cheerful troubadours were rehearsing a song while driving to their first big concert in the year 1964, their Mercury convertible was t-boned by a bus loaded with Catholic school girls, killing the boys instantly. To steal a phrase from the man in the White House…very sad. But through some improbable quirk of the universe and a hole in the ozone, they find themselves on stage in a theatre with a guy named Bill at the piano, a bass player by his side, and an audience waiting for some entertainment.
The excellent, accomplished singer-comedians, Jackson Hinden, Travis Leland, Robert Petrarca, and Nick Tubbs, deliver twenty-nine songs in ninety sidesplitting minutes. The songs will be familiar to anyone who lived through the fifties and sixties. They were played endlessly on AM radio, the go-to source for popular music. Songs like “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Catch a Falling Star,” “Chain Gang,” “Cry,” “Heart and Soul,” “Rags to Riches,” “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” and many more, were staples on American jukeboxes.
The singers create unique, loveable, goofy guys with individual quirks. Sparky (Jackson Hinden) is an irrepressible charmer with an adorable, sideways smile. Frankie (Travis Leland) is a smooth heartthrob. As Smudge, Robert Petrarca is shy and nervous. And as Jinx, basso Nick Tubbs is always just a bit out of step with the others, but delivers a pretty awesome rendition of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic “Sixteen Tons.” It is always thrilling to hear great close harmony singing and these guys are ace.
The best bit in the show is a high-speed recreation of an entire broadcast of “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Those who have personal memories of the show will instantly recognize references to Topo Gigio, ballet dancers, comedians, opera singers and ventriloquist, Señor Wences. And there was even a mention of the singing nun, Soeur Sourire (Jeanne-Paule-Marie Deckers), whose brief burst of fame came with the improbable hit song “Dominique.” One needn’t have lived through the era to get the humor, but it helps.
Forever Plaid is simply staged by Scott Dreier and Kurtis Simmons, with musical direction by the guy at the piano, Bill Wolfe. Rock steady Jonathan Alvarez shines on bass. There is no one credited for choreography, but kudos anyway. The movements are tight, precise and hilarious. The show is well served by the rest of the creative staff: set designer Christopher Scott Murillo, lighting designer Stacy McKenney, costume designer Kim DeShazo, sound designer Dave Mickey, props designers Patty and Gordon Briles and hair and wigs designer Anthony Gagliardi.
If your goal is a good time at the theatre, you can’t do better than Forever Plaid, which runs through March 5 at International City Theatre in Long Beach. Take a drive, you won’t be sorry.