Published in KPBS On Air Magazine December 1997
“San Diego — Now and Forever Plaid.” That’s the motto of hope for the Theatre in Old Town, which just celebrated the first anniversary of “Forever Plaid”, the perennial revue that, like its protagonists, refuses to die.
“Plaid”, you may remember, is about four geeky guys who sing in one ultra-tight harmony. They get killed on the eve of their big professional debut (at the Fusel Lounge of the Airport Hilton) and now, more than three decades later, they’ve been given a chance to come back and resolve their unresolved chords and lives.
San Diego has gone Plaid-mad. More than 100,000 natives and guests have seen “Plaid” this go-round, and that doesn’t include the two visits the show made to the Old Globe in 1991 and ‘92). The revue has become San Diego’s longest, continuously running musical.
And it isn’t just a local phenom. There are “Plaidheads” worldwide, with four ongoing, long-running productions in North America alone. In fact, “Plaid” beat out all the classy competition to win Vegas’ “Year’s Best Show.”
What makes “Forever Plaid” unique? It’s not the cheese. It’s the marketing. “The show’s got broad appeal,” says marketing director Linda Goldman. “First, it’s definitely family entertainment. It appeals whether you’re a hip theatergoer or never walked into a theater in your life. Second, it makes people feel good. We have a huge percentage of repeat audience. They’re not afraid to bring anyone to the show: a visiting relative, a business associate, whatever. It’s no-fear theater.”
Goldman and the four local producers have mounted an unparalleled marketing campaign. They’ve hooked solidly into ConVis, the Concierge Association and the Association of Meeting Planners.
“Plaid” memorabilia (bowties, T-shirts, boxers, mugs, pencils, fanny packs) sell briskly. The Plaid soundtrack is the second largest-selling off-Broadway score in entertainment history.
The outdoor advertising here has been unprecedented. You can see pieces of Plaid on local billboards, cab-tops, bus shelters, trolleys. This is a first in local theater marketing. Then there are the “Plaid-sightings,” one Plaid-man or another posed and photographed at San Diego landmarks: on the Star of India, in Belmont or Balboa Park, as flamingoes at the Zoo.
“Our aim,” says Goldman, “is to make “Plaid” a San Diego institution.”
For the one-year anniversary, Mayor Susan Golding declared November 16 “Forever Plaid Day.” Now the group is gearing up for a gala celebration of the 500th performance, March 1. “We see no end in sight,” adds Goldman.
Next up: “Plaid Tidings” for the holidays. Special seasonal songs will be added to the nostalgia roster, which currently includes early ‘60s favorites like “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Day-O,” “Chain Gang,” “Matilda” and that paean to the accordion, “Lady of Spain.”
Back in the business office, “Plaid” is creating an Off-Broadway-like theater venture that has never existed in San Diego: a successful for-profit effort in a not-for-profit, regional theater town. That means no grants or contributions, just running on ticket sales. That alone is a theatrical triumph. The show may not be high art. But it’s good, clean, musical fun. And it’s packin’ ‘em in eight times a week. There must be Power in Plaid.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.