(Plaids L to R: Brian Altman as Smudge, Shane Patrick O'Neill as Frankie, Josh Rhett Noble as Sparky, and Matthew Ryan Thompson as Jinx)
Time was, four clean-cut young lads could sing “Heart and Soul” in close harmony and make teenage girls scream and swoon. Sixty years before One Direction, groups such as the Four Aces and the Hi-Lo’s were laying out young female audiences with their lyrical takes on classic songs.
And the evergreen show Forever Plaid, now at the Beck Center, brings back that era of crooning post World War II innocence. As directed and choreographed by Martin Cespedes, this is an entertaining and endearing representation of the Plaid franchise, even if some of the songs don’t fly as high as they might.
The conceit of the book, written by Stuart Ross, is that the four high school vocalists were snuffed out by a school bus before their career took off. So through a cosmic harmonic convergence, the heavens have opened and brought them back to life to perform the concert they never performed in real life.
Each of the Plaids has his own little quirks, and these are brought to life nicely by Brian Altman (nerdy Smudge), Josh Rhett Noble (lively Sparky), Shane Patrick O’Neill (focused Frankie) and Matthew Ryan Thompson (fragile Jinx). Despite having names that sound like Snow White’s backup team of dwarfs, the boys get their act together in short order.
The song list is hefty and includes old-time faves such as “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Catch a Falling Star.” And the comedy bits, such as a 3-minute mash-up of all the acts that used to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, come off without a hitch. Even if you weren’t around for the original, it never gets old seeing jugglers and stupid dog tricks—even if it’s a stuffed dog being tossed through a hula hoop.
Of course, the music is the reason for this show to exist, and the four performers fashion some sweet blends. However, the exacting demands of close harmony forces them to lower their volume on a number of songs. As a result, the glorious soaring notes many remember when the Four Aces crooned “Love Is a Man Splendored Thing” are not there.
Sure, many of the dance moves are just as they were when Ross directed and choreographed the original production of his show in 1990. And they can get repetitive (lean left, lean right, move the floor mic in a circle, etc.) Still, Cespedes and musical director Bryan Bird compose a crisp and nicely-paced production that keeps its foot on the pedal of musical memories.
As you might expect, there is precious little edgy material here, unless you get a tingle when one of the boys, in marketing mode, innocently says, “We’d like to work your private functions.” And that is true to the era when rock and roll was just beginning. Indeed, people back then were so clueless that pioneer rocker Bill Haley and His Comets’ first albums were called “foxtrots with vocals,” perhaps to appease the old folks.
But everyone knew what those masters of harmony in guy and girl groups were up to. And this Forever Plaid is a fitting tribute to that music of the Eisenhower years.
Through October 12 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540