The Morning Report
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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006 | In 1964, four squeaky-clean teens who dream of singing success are killed in a car crash en route to pick up their custom-made plaid tuxedos for their first major public appearance (other than bowling alleys and mall openings). Soon after, the boys (Sparky, Jinx, Frankie and Smudge) return to earth to give a final performance from beyond the grave.
That’s the premise of “Forever Plaid,” the precursor to “Plaid Tidings,” which continues the saga of the Plaids. If you haven’t seen “Forever Plaid,” don’t worry, the Plaids give a rapid-fire succession of antics from the last time they visited earth. (The show program also provides a brief primer on the history of the boys.)
At first, the boys have no idea why they have been summoned to earth again. Through a series of “hints” from the late Rosemary Clooney, it becomes clear the Plaids are back to do another show: a Christmas show. They’ve always dreamt of having their own Plaids “Christmas Special” based on the Perry Como televised specials, and now is their chance.
Playwright Stuart Ross’ wry sense of humor becomes immediately apparent the moment the lights go down and the Plaids arrive from heaven. You’ll have to have your wits about you, because the Plaids are quick, talented and all over the stage. Blink and you might miss a cute detail; a nervous Plaid, surreptitiously trying to dispose of his chewing gum, the accompanying pianist rolling his eyes.
Three of the original San Diego Plaids return to their roles, and local actor David S. Humphrey joins up as Frankie to complete the fabulous foursome. Though a group, each of the boys has a distinctive personality: Stan Chandler as Jinx captures the shy, underdog look but sings with energy like a true crooner, David Engel’s klutzy Smudge trips, falls and dances out of place in routines but his singing range is out of this world (no pun intended), gentle Sparky (Larry Raben) sings soothingly and Humphreys’ smooth Frankie manages to reign the boys in when needed without being overbearing.
The antics and quirks of the boys capture so perfectly the 1960s feel; it’s amazing to look at the actors’ headshots in the program and compare their 2006 photos to their characters’ looks.
Though the audience took a while to warm up, everyone was exuberantly singing along by the end of Act I. And there were some cheering women in front of me who had obviously seen “Forever Plaid.” Stage choreography astounds with originality and cuteness; the guys do a great act with some plungers. The Plaids are spot-on with precision and timing and they make it look smooth and easy.
Musically, the performance journeys through traditional Christmas music, new twists on old favorites and soulful harmonizing. Adding stage-presence pianist Don LeMaster and bassist John Smith accompany the Plaids with style.
“Plaid Tidings” celebrates the good guys, considered un-cool by some; the Plaids somehow manage an earnest wholesomeness that never ventures into sappy and cloying.