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November 23, 2007

'Plaid Tidings' adds holiday harmony to fun musical

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA):

Looking for a way to ease yourself into the holiday spirit? A Christmas show that's seasonal without being syrupy? Something clean and wholesome enough for the whole family that won't put the grown-ups to sleep? Fear not. I bring you "Plaid Tidings" of great fun.

If you saw "Forever Plaid," you won't be disappointed in the holiday-themed sequel. If, like me, you didn't see "Forever Plaid" because you thought it would be painfully corny and Lawrence Welk-y (and I should know better, because I used to sing in a cappella groups), don't let the doo-wop dorkiness factor put you off.

Yeah, the four characters have names you might consider too cutesy for your pet, and they're earnest and clean-cut to the point of virginal fluster. But holy cannoli, can these guys sing.

The tone for the evening (two hours, with intermission) is set by one of the most beguiling turn-off-your-phones-and-be-quiet announcements ever.

The story of the Plaids, as you may recall, is that four guys who met in their high school audiovisual club and practiced their harmonies in the basement of a plumbing supply store were, in the early '60s, on the verge of maybe hitting it big with their first major show. But on the way, their bus crashed and they were all killed instantly. Fortunately, if there's one thing more powerful than death itself, it's a snappy major seventh chord -- and back they come to do the show they were deprived of in life.

That was "Forever Plaid." In "Plaid Tidings," they are sent to Earth again, and even they aren't sure why. Their efforts to puzzle out why they're back on a stage making "the biggest comeback since capri pants" provide the hint of a plotline and plenty of comedy fodder.

The original cast of "Forever Plaid" is back at the CLO Cabaret for the holiday show (and I do mean "holiday" -- references to Hanukkah, Ramadan and Kwanzaa may be culturally anachronistic, but so's the Christmas rapping), and their harmonies, choreography and timing couldn't be tighter. This isn't some static serenade in a barbershop. There's a lot going on, from the dance of the long-stemmed plumber's helpers in "Sha-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)" to the manic, hilariously comprehensive tribute to everything on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 3 minutes and 11 seconds.

You don't need to be able to see their names appliqued inside their trademark jackets to come to know and appreciate each member of the group. Joseph Domencic as Smudge, the bespectacled bass, worries and frets but croons silkily ("What a voice!" whispered a woman at the next table) even as he marches myopically offstage without his glasses. Marcus Stevens as Sparky is a ball of energy and ideas, keeping things moving along. J.D. Daw is handsome Jinx, overcoming his nervous nosebleed to deliver a medley of "Besame Mucho" and "Kiss of Fire" that flirts with sexiness until it's undermined by comic backup vocals and overzealous microphone flourishes. And Adam Halpin's Frankie, deadpanning a psychological analysis of the story of Rudolph while wearing a festive rack of antlers, is the first person I've ever heard use the word "Orwellian" to describe Santa Claus.

The only snags in the whole evening are so minor as to be hardly worth mentioning: Smudge's monologue about dysfunctional family Christmases comes too early to be that long and that realistic, and falling snow should, ideally, be silent.

But here's a show that you, the (mature) kids and Grandma will all enjoy, though probably in different ways, without needing to brush your teeth afterward. Never have dead men worn plaid more brilliantly.

Posted by acapnews at November 23, 2007 9:53 PM


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