KPBS AIRDATE: November 27, 1996
MUSIC, under: “Three Coins in the Fountain”
For some strange reason, plaid never seems to go out of style. I guess it’s warm and familiar and comfortable. Same goes for “Forever Plaid.” Audiences, especially in San Diego, never seem to tire of it, and they’re fighting their way in to see our city’s fourth “Plaid” production. The show has no particular message or meaning, no depth beyond its surface silliness, but still, there were 100 productions of it nationwide last year, and, when you add the commemorative T-shirts and pencils and CDs, it’s become a veritable cottage industry, a little idea that, Frankenstein-like, has taken on a life of its own.
Five years after the first of three Old Globe Theatre engagements, “Plaid” creator-director Stuart Ross and his original design team have returned to San Diego, to the Theatre in Old Town. And they’ve lovingly remounted the musical tale of four nerdy singers who died enroute to their big professional debut, and are given a chance to come back to earth to do the show they never got to do. That’s it, folks: corny, goofy, sentimental, and nostalgic. A valentine to a time of simpler values, “Plaid” also extols the virtues of complex and intricate four-part harmonies. The singing has always been the centerpiece, with a playlist of 29 songs ranging from “Day-O” to “Chain Gang,” from “Lady of Spain” to “Three Coins in the Fountain.” The Plaids, whose era was soon to be usurped by the Beatles, even do a 50’s guy-group massacre of the Mop Tops’ “She Loves You.”
In those days, the pinnacle of success was appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. One of the funniest bits in “Forever Plaid” is the 3 minute, 11 second rendition of that “really big shew,” complete with spinning plates, (“‘it’s all right”) Señor Wences and that cloying, annoying mouse, Topo Gigio.
The humor is far more acute this time around, and the characters are more finely drawn. But the music didn’t hit me like the first time. I remember feeling a total-body shiver when I first heard those incredibly tight harmonies. These guys sing really well, but they didn’t knock my plaid socks off. And though it should be an ensemble piece, with no standouts or stars, you can’t help noticing Leo Daignault’s heart-breakingly high voice, and, as Jinx, his endearingly shy, nosebleed-a-minute personality. San Diegan Rick Meads may be a little too cute and suave for the leader, Frankie, and his hair is far too cool for this geekarama group. Steve Gunderson is agile and funny as Sparky, the lisping clown who keeps forgetting to take out his orthodontic retainer. And as Smudge, Bobby Smith is a hoot with his basso voice and his interminable left-right confusions.
Though I really got into the “Matilda” singalong, they started to lose me on the downside of the intermissionless act. I don’t know; maybe it was the un-PC staging of the Latin numbers. Or the lack of anything to engage my left hemisphere. Or maybe it was just too much of a good harmony thing. But I was ready for the end when it came.
To borrow from the Plaid catalogue, I’d have to say that the cast has “Sixteen Tons” of talent, and they put their “Heart and Soul” into the production. I can’t say I was “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby,” but there were some “Moments to Remember.”
MUSIC, under and out: “Moments to Remember”
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.