Forever Plaid (SecondStory Repertory)

Posted on July 16, 2012

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The Plaids (l-r) Jinx (Brandt Sterling), Sparky (Andrew Murray), Frankie (Brad Walker) , Smudge (Isaiah Crowson) and Pianist (Paul Linnes)
(C) 2012 Rob Falk at SecondStory Rep

SecondStory Repertory closes out its thirteenth season with “Forever Plaid”, written by Stuart Ross and directed by Crystal Dawn Munkers. “Forever Plaid” is a distinctive and magical production, a mingling of music and drama with a healthy dose of a wistful flashback concert performance. It is a step back in time, an enjoyable revisiting for an evening the nostalgic and simple pleasure of the vocal harmony of the four part boy groups of the 50’s like the Four Aces, Four Coins, Four Freshmen, Four Lads, Four Preps, Hi-Lo’s and Kirby Stone Four.

Forever Plaid” tells the story of just such a boy vocal band perched on the precipice of realizing the dream that they have been working towards ever since their fortuitous meeting in the high school audio visual club. Sparky, Smudge, Jinx and Frankie, individually flawed but together as The Plaids, bound by their mutual passion for music and entertaining, their potential was unlimited. The countless hours of rehearsing their music, choreographed moves and the continued strengthening of their enchanted four part harmony had finally paid off and they landed their first big gig at the Airport Hilton cocktail lounge, The Fusel Lounge.

The Plaids – Sparky (Andrew Murray) Shines
(C) 2012 Rob Falk at SecondStory Rep

It has been said that our fate could hinge upon one small event or an unexpected crossing of paths which would forever altered ones course in life. That one happening could make the difference between a band achieving celebrity status and their lingering in obscurity. For The Plaids their fate was forever altered while en route to pick up their custom made plaid tuxedos. Fate can be a cruel mistress and such was the case for The Plaids, as they were broadsided by a school bus of Catholic teens on way to see The Beatles make their U.S. television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.

For The Beatles that fateful night spring boarded them into unimaginable success, securing their permanent place in Music’s Hall of Fame, but for The Plaids, that night ended the lives of four clean-cut young men, who would be denied the chance to croon their hypnotic harmony into microphones before a packed room of young hormone-loaded adolescents. The story of The Plaids might have ended that night, except for a miraculous posthumous concert appearance arranged by the powers-that-be, some 48 years later and that’s where “Forever Plaid” begins.

Forever Plaid” does not dazzle with special effects, a deep intriguing storyline, complex sets or flawless choreography, it relies solely on the amiability of the characters and the audience’s ability to relate to and become invested in them. On this level, the show succeeds wildly. The characters of Sparky (Andrew Murray), Smudge (Isaiah Crowson), Jinx (Brandt Sterling) and Frankie (Brad Walker) are each uniquely and distinctly brought to life by the talented cast. Murray, Crowson, Sterling and Walker expertly tug at our heartstrings, as they struggle back and forth between giving in to their own self-doubts and going after their dream. As they fumble around the stage, we overlook their nervousness and at times awkward stage presentation because we are moved by their untimely deaths and we root for them to take this most unlikely of opportunities and to succeed.

The Plaids (l-r) Jinx (Brandt Sterling), Sparky (Andrew Murray), Frankie (Brad Walker) , Smudge (Isaiah Crowson) and Pianist (Paul Linnes)
(C) 2012 Rob Falk at SecondStory Rep

Supported by a lone pianist (Paul Linnes), they start to sing and in the midst of their vocal harmony, they begin to shine. We rejoice and delight in their innocence and naiveté as they perform their campy but loveable throwback to yesterday’s synchronized moves. We laugh at their anxiety induced ailments begin to manifest, nose bleeds, asthma and upset stomach. Each character in turn gets to come forward and share. We learn about each of their personal quirks, as they attempt to address the audience. Each brings to the group their own strengths and weaknesses.

The story really is about coming of age, making peace with ourselves, our insecurities of youth and becoming men who humbly recognize their strengths and talents without arrogance or conceit. Throughout the production we watch these boys, stumble and make their way through the transformation into men. Frankie plagued with asthma is the confident fatherly figure and takes care of the group, making sure that everyone knows where they are supposed to be and helps the group connect with the audience. Jinx once picked on by bullies, shy and insecure develops into a confident man with a tremendous vocal range. Smudge is the reluctant performer ever conscious of all the things that could go wrong, trapped by his insecurities and his nature to overthink, transforms like the ugly duckling into the beautiful swan. There is a danger that too much insecurities and introspection might drag the play down and cause audiences to disengage. That’s where Sparky comes in. He’s always on, high energy, the story teller and joker of the group. His vitality keeps the production from getting bogged down. His transformation involves tempering his showmanship with heart.

The Plaids (l-r) Smudge (Isaiah Crowson), Frankie (Brad Walker), Jinx (Brandt Sterling) and Sparky (Andrew Murray)
(C) 2012 Rob Falk at SecondStory Rep

Across the board, the performers do an amazing job of conveying these characters and their personal conversion throughout the show, much to the delight of the audience. The singing was wonderful, which is almost a standard at SSR these days and I was not alone in the audience humming and singing along with The Plaids. The songs are a delightful mix of favorites from the 50’s, including ‘Three Coins In The Fountain’, ‘Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby’, ‘No Not Much’, ‘Catching a Falling Store’, Chain Gang’, ‘Matilda’ and more. The show entertains from beginning to end. The songs are generally upbeat and the engaging and the performers masterfully engage the audience and get us to care about them. There are many memorable moment throughout the show, that just flat out work.

In our modern day where it is getting harder to distinguish the heroes from the villains simply based on their actions, it was refreshing to spend an evening with some of the real “good guys”. Part of Forever Plaid’s appeal is that it not only conjures up memories of a simpler time, but it tugs at our desire to see the underdog succeed. SSR continues to raise the bar and establish itself as the place to go for large scale musical productions like “Chicago” as well as the smaller and more intimate arrangements like “Forever Plaid”.

To find out more about SecondStory Repertory’s upcoming fourteenth season, check out SecondStory Repertory.

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