Encore Michigan

“Forever Plaid:” One last chance for harmony

Review May 30, 2016 Amy J. Parrent

ROCHESTER, Mich.–The Meadow Brook Theatre’s final show of its 50th anniversary season celebrates a specific 1950-ish musical genre. Forever Plaid is just the right bit of frothy entertainment for hot spring nights. The musical evocation of close-harmony groups–ala the Four Freshmen– begins from a slightly morbid premise; this quartet was killed in a car accident in 1964. But somehow, decades later, they’ve come temporarily and cheerfully back to earth to give one last great concert.

That they died after being hit by a busload of kids on their way to see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan is symbolic of course, as their style of pop was already being stomped out by the advancing guitar groups.

The four young performers who make up Forever Plaid offer up consistently strong vocals in the most intricate of harmonic gymnastics, wonderfully backed by the three-piece onstage band. The boys are so in sync with each other, they even say “Wow” in unison.

In quick shorthand we’re offered up the personalities of the quartet. Frankie/Frances (Garett Michael Harris) is a tall drink of water with curly blonde locks, a sort of aw-shucks dude. (Special props to Harris who, after taking a spill onstage earlier this week, powered through opening night in a walking boot cast.)

Sparky (Lucas Wells) is charming and intensely enthusiastic, in contrast to his stepbrother Jinx (Ben Garrett), who takes awhile to come out of his shell. (But let’s cut him some slack – who among us wouldn’t be rattled by our own resurrection.) Smudge (Maclain Dassatti) is a strong bass in Fred Armisen glasses.

During the course of the 90-minute show, the group barrels enthusiastically through nearly two dozen oldies pop standards in this unique style, a blend of barbershop and doo-wop, a hint of soul and harbinger of the Beach Boys. There’s also some good-natured dialog in the Stuart Ross script, cute and corny bits from innocent young men frozen in the Fifties.

There’s audience participation. (Hint: If you’re the one they ask “What year is this,” don’t get flustered like the gentlemen on opening night.) Also, if you’re down front, be prepared to be pulled onstage for a rendition of Heart and Soul. (A minor note: Opening night audiences in the first few rows might have wished for a slight cutback on a dry ice effect, as the crowd itself was enveloped in the cloud.)

Longer sequences treat the audience to a Caribbean medley and a three-minute recreation of a famous variety show. (And here’s where I should mention the extensive collection of props in play for the show, including plumbers helpers, light-strung trees and LPs.) Props of a different kind to band members, bassist Andrew Lloyd, percussionist Nick Matthews and pianist/conductor Matthew Croft. (The arrangements/ orchestrations are by James Raitt (a cousin of John and Bonnie).

Travis W. Walter directed the show. The shimmering set is by Kristen Gribbin, the mood lighting by Matthew J. Fick, the just-right sound design by Mike Duncan and the costumes simultaneously nostalgic and attractive, are from Corey Collins.

Forever Plaid might not be the kind of musical that wins Pulitzers. But only the coldest heart couldn’t be melted by the smooth mellowness of four fine young singers crooning a classic.

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