Fame after death for 'Forever Plaid'

A fatal accident can’t stop the pop quartet in PCPA Theaterfest's latest production

slinn@thetribunenews.comJune 26, 2014 

Clockwise from left, Richie Ferris, Jeff Parker, Nick Tubbs and Kyle Smith in PCPA Theaterfest’s "Forever Plaid."

LUIS ESCOBAR, REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO

It’s quite a coincidence that PCPA Theaterfest’s production of “Forever Plaid” opened the same weekend as the movie “Jersey Boys.”

Both are versions of successful stage productions that take their musical cues from the early 1960s. 

But while the jukebox musical “Jersey Boys,” which charts the rise and fall of the ’60s rock group The Four Seasons, intersperses toe-tapping tunes with side stories about interpersonal squabbles, rocky romances and clashes with the criminal underground, the musical revue “Forever Plaid” centers on a squeaky-clean pop quartet’s final performance. 

“Forever Plaid,” which opened off-Broadway in 1990, follows a close-harmony guy group in the tradition of The Four Aces and The Four Freshmen. 

The four bandmates – waggish Frankie (Jeff Parker), dour Smudge (Richie Ferris), excitable Sparky (Kyle Smith) and his stepbrother Jinx (Nick Tubbs) — met in high school when they all joined the audiovisual club in 1956. Since then, they’ve dreamed of making it big as “the pure, the proud, the plaid.” 

The Plaids’ dreams of stardom are shattered on Feb. 9, 1964, when their cherry-red 1954 Mercury convertible is slammed into by a school bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see The Beatles make their American television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” (Not only are their lives and careers cut short, but they’re also prevented from picking up their custom-made plaid tuxedos.)

Now, thanks to some supernatural quirk, the boys have returned from the afterlife to perform one final show.

“We could make the biggest comeback since Lazarus,” Sparky tells his bandmates.

And so this clean-cut boy band launches into their 29-song set, backed by bassist Brian Lanzone and pianist/musical director Mark Robertshaw.

“Forever Plaid” sticks strictly to the revue format, delivering a steady stream of nostalgic hits such as “Catch a Falling Star,” “Heart and Soul” and “Three Coins in the Fountain” interspersed with the occasional anecdote about the Plaids’ love of music. 

Smudge drags out a suitcase packed with favorite platters from his record collection. Jinx and Sparky recall watching “Ed Sullivan” — “the Switzerland of variety shows” — on the family Magnavox. And Sparky describes the band’s brush with a cardigan-clad Perry Como. 

Most of these moments are mellow. But the show comes alive during a calypso medley featuring “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” and a madcap tribute to “Ed Sullivan” accompanied by Jinx playing “Lady of Spain” on accordion. 

Through it all, the guys’ smooth harmonies and sparkling smiles never waver.

“Forever Plaid,” directed by Erik Stein, doesn’t try to distract them, either. The cast members wear matching black tuxedo jackets and trousers with crisp white shirts and plaid bowties, cummerbunds and pocket squares, designed by Alycia Matz. 

The simple but effective set, designed by Dave Nofsinger, consists of four oversize LPs stacked under an arch reminiscent of an old-fashioned Wurlitzer jukebox. The rest of the crew includes choreographer Katie Wackowski, lighting designer Jennifer “Z” Zornow and sound designer Chuck Hatcher.

With its blend of songs sprinkled with pleasant stage patter and occasional audience interaction, “Forever Plaid” is tailor-made for fans of oldies radio or “The Lawrence Welk Show.” 

While the pace and subject matter might be a bit sleepy for younger crowds, older audience members will relish the chance to clap, hum and bop their heads to a familiar beat. 

IF YOU GO

"Forever Plaid"
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday 
Marian Theatre, 800 S. College Drive, Santa Maria
$29.50 to $37.50, discounts for seniors and students 
8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, July 4-29
Solvang Festival Theater, 420 2nd St., Solvang
$38.50 to $49, discounts for seniors and students
922-8313 or www.pcpa.org

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Follow @shelikestowatch on Twitter.

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