THEATER REVIEW: “Forever Plaid” @ Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Gail M. Burns
I have lost track of how many productions of Forever Plaid I have now seen, but this time was special because I brought my 20-year-old nephew and he had never seen the show before. I had the pleasure of watching the Plaids work their magic once again, and as we exited the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, my nephew proclaimed that Forever Plaid was now his favorite musical of all time. The last show to earn that approbation was Cabaret, which actually IS one of the great masterpieces of 20th century musical theater. What is it about this little piece of fluff that has made it so hugely popular over the last quarter of a century? It holds the record as one of the longest running shows on the Vegas strip – and this is a show with no scantily clad women (in fact, there are no women at all!) What makes Forever Plaid work?
One word: writing. Stuart Ross didn’t just craft a great line-up of late 1950s/early 1960s guy-group harmony tunes; he created a story and four distinct, lovable characters. Over the course of a mere 90 minutes you genuinely come to care about Frankie, Sparky, Jinx and Smudge, even though you never learn their last names, or even their real first names except for Frankie/Francis. These four guys are the schleppy everymen we all knew or once were. Sort of the upbeat version of Seymour Krelborn, if he’d had pals instead of plants to hang out with.
For those of you who haven’t seen this show (where have you been for the past quarter century?) Forever Plaid is the story of a mid-20th century close harmony “guy group” who are dead. On February 9, 1964, en route to pick up their custom-made plaid tuxedos, they were driving in their cherry-red 1954 Mercury convertible and rehearsing their big finale when they were slammed broadside by a school bus filled with eager Catholic teens on their way to witness the Beatles make their U.S. television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The schoolgirls miraculously escaped injury. The members of Forever Plaid were killed instantly. Through the power of Harmony and the Expanding Holes in the Ozone Layer, in conjunction with the positions of the planets and all the other astro-technical stuff, they are allowed to come back to perform the show they never got to do in life.