KPBS AIRDATE: 8/29/91
We’ve all known a few good-hearted geeks. Guys who tried too hard to be cool, and wound up less than tepid. Guys who got nosebleeds when they were nervous. Or, even worse, heartburn. Maybe they wore bowties. Plaid ones, no less. Well, that’s just the kind of guy that’s in the crooning quartet, Forever Plaid. They may not have been Wilkesbarre’s best boy-group, but they didn’t necessarily deserve their inglorious fate.
You see, they were cruising along in a 1954 Mercury convertible, on the way to their first big gig, at the Fusel Lounge of the Airport Hilton, when they were broadsided by a busload of parochial school nymphets — on their way to see the Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. The good little girls were unharmed; the schlemiels were killed instantly.
Now, 27 years later, they’re given one last chance to resolve their unresolved chords and lives; to make, as they say, “the biggest comeback since Lazarus.” We’re the audience, they’re framed in a set that looks like they’re inside a huge, flashing jukebox. And the rest is… sheer music.
It’s goofy, silly, simple — and impossible not to get caught up. One short chorus of “Three Coins in a Fountain,” one harmonious bar of “Shangri-La,” and you’re transported back to another time and place — guileless, unaffected, innocent. Wholesome thoughts. Family values. Stacks and stacks of letters to Perry Como…. Never forget that plaids are made up of squares.
Writer-director Stuart Ross has given these dipsticks some soppy, hare-brained dialogue and a bunch of ridiculous moves. It’s all perfect, down to the plaid notepads and suspenders. But these clods sure can sing. Each of them, solo and a` quatre, is terrific, from the sweet, spine-tingling highest (Stan Chandler) to the bottomless resonance of the lowest (David Engel). Those two have the best-defined personas, too. One has nosebleeds, and the other has terminal incoordination — despite the fact that, in real life, David Engel actually started out as a dancer. Only the graceful know how to be graceless.
This is the original New York cast; they’ve been doing this show for a pretty long time, but they still seem to be having a ball. So does the superlative onstage musical arranger and pianist, James Raitt. And of course, so does the audience. Especially during the riotous 3-minute take-off of every act that ever appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Even Topo Gigio, the Flying Wallendas, José Jiménez and Señor Wences. If you know those names, you’re probably older than you care to admit. But you’re the perfect age for plaid. I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.