Theater Review: "Forever Plaid"

By: 
Ben Miles
FOREVER PLAID stars, from left, Nick Tubbs, Travis Leland,  Robert Petrarca and Jackson Hinden

In 1989, when it was initially produced in New York, “Forever Plaid” launched what would become a phenomenon in musical theater. The delightfully whimsical musical, by Stuart Ross, was an Off-Broadway sensation, playing for five years in the Big Apple, and soon destined to become a perennial favorite among theaters across the nation and around the world.

Now the Long Beach-based International City Theatre has cultivated a staging of “Plaid” that remains a charmingly mystical musical. Here’s the upshot of the plot: While travelling to a gig in their cherry-red convertible car, the four-part harmony group, known as The Four Plaids, were killed when they were broadsided by a bus stuffed with Catholic school girls on their way to see The Beatles make their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The year was 1964. Nevertheless the semi-fabulous Four Plaids, through “a hole in the ozone,” are able to make one final earthly concert appearance – and we, the ICT audience, are the beneficiaries of this cosmic occasion.

With two directors, Scott Dreier and Kurtis Simmons – both of whom have actually played as Plaid performers in past productions of “Forever Plaid” – this ICT staging is a well-timed comedy and a toe-tapping treasure trove of ever fresh pop music. Musical director Bill Wolfe provides seasoned piano accompaniment (along with an un-credited but rhythmic bass player) to the nearly 30 tunes in the 90-minute show (with no intermission).

The players who embody The Four Plaids are perfectly cast with Jackson Hinden as Sparky; Travis Leland as Frankie; Robert Petrarca as Smudge; and Nick Tubbs as Jinx. Each performer receives equal time beneath the limelight (the worldly and otherworldly lighting design is by Stacy McKenney), but certain Plaids with particular song covers remain marked in the memory, including Frankie’s (Leland) rendition of “Three Coins in the Fountain,” Sparky’s (Hinden’s) “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” and Smudge’s (Petrarca) singular take on the Tennessee Ernie Ford smash hit, “Sixteen Tons.”

In a Plaid tribute to The Beatles, Jinx (Tubbs) as well as the other three plaid clad lads achieve beatific and smile-inducing harmonies while interpreting a Fab Four medley that begins and ends with “She Loves You.”

The indispensible costuming by Kim DeShazo and the eloquent scenic design by Christopher Scott Murillo make for sturdy stagecraft. But the spotty sound design by Dave Mickey makes for some challenged listening.

Remaining performances are March 3, 4 and 5. Order tickets ($47 and $49) at (562) 436-4610 or visit www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.

ben@beachcomber.news

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