If someone had told me I would enjoy hearing a guy group harmonizing songs of the 1950s, I would have groaned. I was there in the ’50s, and it was a mostly forgettable era of American pop music — corny then, and even cornier in retrospect.
But Sorcerer Productions has mined that era in its production of “Forever Plaid,” and made a lyrical, funny and fun show out of it. Two excellent musicians and four cute, talented singers resuscitate the oldies and bring them to retro life.
The show by Stuart Ross has a thin narrative thread: The Plaids, a quartet of post-high school singers, were on the way to their first big gig when their convertible was hit by a van filled with girls from a Catholic school headed for the appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. (This can be seen as a metaphor for that pivotal moment in musical history.)
The girls survived, but the boys were killed. The show begins with the foursome returning from the afterlife decades later through a hole in the ozone layer to get a second chance to perform in what one describes as “the biggest comeback since Lazarus.” That’s it for plot. The rest is a musical comedy revue, with songs connected by brief shenanigans that develop each singer’s unique character.
The guys, directed by Natalia Berryman and music director Mark Robertshaw, sing great harmony. Robertshaw is dynamite on the piano, and Travis Harmon complements him on double bass. The show is in the small Studio Theatre at the Clark Center, which makes audience interaction possible.
While most of the numbers are ensemble pieces, each of the singers gets his moment in the spotlight. Cody Pettit is Frankie, who assumes leadership of the group because he has more self-confidence than the others. Area audiences have seen Pettit as an actor and a dancer—now we know he’s a good singer as well. He sings with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes that seems to say, “I’m having fun, and I hope you are too.” He’s a hoot as he leads the audience in a sing-along to “Matilda” ( “she take me money and run Venezuela”).
Mark Rohmer is Jinx, the sweet blond tenor, but he breaks out of the mold to belt out “Cry” in the style of the original Johnny Ray version. Jeff Salsbury is Sparky, who tells the story of “the golden cardigan” and his meeting with Perry Como, singing “Catch a Falling Star” in the Como crooner mode, along with a medley of Como tunes by the foursome.
The most lovable — and funny — member of the troupe is Smudge, with the deepest voice, played by Christian Clarno. He takes his turn to shine with “Sixteen Tons,” as the others back him with “Chain Gang.”
Thirty-five songs range from romance to Calypso. The show opens with “Three Coins in the Fountain” and closes with “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” The guys sing “Perfidia” in fractured Spanish, and pretty much murder the Beatles’ “She Loves Me” by giving it a doo-wop beat.
But they demonstrate their finely honed harmonic skills in an a cappella piece by the show’s author titled “Scotland the Brave.” We tend to take the harmony groups for granted because they make it sound easy, but anyone who has ever tried it knows how difficult it is. The singing is embellished with appropriate moves, sometimes almost like dancing—but not quite. Stacy Estrada is choreographer.
The funniest number in the show is a three-minute-and-11-second version of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” with the four actors rushing in and out as Jose Jiminez, the singing nun, the fist puppet, a ballerina, an opera singer, a juggler and more.
This will be hilarious for viewers of a certain age (pretty old), but may be lost on younger generations. In any case, it’s like the rest of the show, a piece of musical history, and the comical way it’s all presented is frothy fun for everybody.