Riverside Dinner Theater Forever PlaidBy Amy Berlin • Mar 26th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Riverside Dinner Theater: (Info) (Web)
Riverside Dinner Theater & Conference Center, Fredericksburg, VA
Through May 4th
2:00, with intermission
$55-$60/$50-$55 Seniors/$40 Children
Reviewed March 21st, 2014
Forever Plaid is a loving, nostalgia-laden homage to four-part-harmony “boy bands” from the 50’s and early 60’s. In the prologue, we are quickly told that The Plaids, four friends who met in the audio-visual club at school and loved to sing, were killed instantly while driving to a gig that might have been their big break. Their car was hit by a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls on their way to the Ed Sullivan show, where the Beatles were about to make their United States début. It’s a not-too-subtle metaphor from playwright Stuart Ross about rock changing the landscape of music and ending the popularity of harmony groups. It also sets up the entire, uncomplicated plot of Forever Plaid: the group must perform the concert they missed in order to rest in peace.
In Riverside Center’s production, The Plaids are played by Austin Colby (who will be replaced in later performances by Matthew Hirsh) (Frankie), Brandon Duncan (Smudge), David Landstrom (Sparky), and Chris Rudy (Jinx). This quartet, as well as director Bobby Smith, have worked together, playing these parts, before. They all seem to have a history with this show, and Smith was a member of the original off-Broadway cast.
This familiarity is both a blessing and a curse. On the upside, this quartet look and sound amazing. Their harmonies are tight, lush, romantic, and swoon-worthy. Songs like “No Not Much,” “Cry,” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” are, in a word, gorgeous. They blend beautifully and work wonderfully as an ensemble, and while each member of the cast has his solos and moments to shine, they never seem to upstage each other and are never better than when they harmonize in four parts. Smith has recreated the original staging, and his actors execute it flawlessly. A particular highlight was a tribute to the Ed Sullivan show featuring a multitude of familiar characters, impressive circus tricks, comic pratfalls, and an enjoyable rendition of “Lady of Spain,” all presented in about three minutes of tightly choreographed energy.
The transporting vocals, which are accompanied by the hardworking and charming music director Joel DeCandio on piano and an uncredited bass player, are 85% of the play, if not more, and they are certainly enough on their own to make for an entertaining evening. Those who remember the songs and recognize the references might inch that percentage up to 90% on the nostalgia factor alone. Taken just as a concert by The Plaids, the show is stellar.
However, Forever Plaid is also a play. Granted, the plot is thin, and the characters not terribly well-developed, but there is a story to be told. And this is where Forever Plaid stumbles a bit, perhaps because the actors and the director are so familiar with the show that they seem to have grown a bit complacent. It is actually difficult to differentiate between the four Plaids. While they are each a bit nerdy, Ross has imbued them with some individuality, and even where the script falls short, the actors and director could have fleshed out the characters more. And while there are some comic bits with each of the quartet’s anxiety-induced maladies, these could have been highlighted more and woven more intricately into the whole show. This type of specificity would have deepened the show into more than just a musical trip down memory lane.
In addition, the show lacks any urgency. For a group that has been in limbo for fifty years and has one chance to “make things right,” the Plaids exhibit very little drive. There is no feeling that this concert is any more important than other concerts they have performed, and this lack of push leads a rather short play to drag a bit, especially when the actors approach the more “dramatic” moments. The script seems to support a change in The Plaids from awkward teenagers to music stars, but there is little in this production to support that arc, as The Plaids seem generally competent from beginning to end. A little more attention to the story and the unique objectives and stumbling blocks of each of the characters would have made The Plaids both more endearing and more compelling.
But in the end, the show is about singing, and here The Plaids soar. Ably supported by the production team (scenic coordination by Matthew P. Westcott, lighting design by Joseph Wallen, costume coordination by Gaye Law, and technical direction by Phil Carlucci), The Plaids evoke a more innocent, earnest time. In their matching dinner jackets, underneath a huge projected moon and bathed in sumptuous evening light, it’s easy to forgive any flaws and just let the ears enjoy the aural buffet.
When most of us look back to the 1950s, we think of rock ‘n’ roll, greasers, hot rods, Elvis, Annette, Fabian, D.A. Haircuts, and teenage rebellion. But there was a flipside to this era that was lost in surge of progress, one characterized by family harmony, innocence, and the sincerity of dreams. It was a time when most parents and kids listened and danced to the same music, when families ritually gathered in front of the TV to watch their favorite variety show (like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Show), and when everyone worked to fulfill the American Dream.
It was a period when four-part guy groups harmonized their way across America, popularized on the airwaves and spinning records on jukeboxes and hi-fis throughout the land. Standing behind a quartet of microphones, they crooned a multitude of chaperoned prom-goers into dreamy romance with vocal arrangements that soared to stratospheric heights of harmony. They wore dinner jackets and bow ties (or perhaps cardigans and white bucks). And their every move was drilled to precision, carefully synchronized with the words and the beat of the music. This was “the sound” that crested right before rock ‘n’ roll stole the heartbeat of music across the globe.
During this time, guys across the country banded together in basements or garages to sing and play for fun. If things worked out, their group might actually be hired to sing at weddings, conventions, proms, and country club socials. Inspired by the success of recording stars, they made plans to zoom into careers of fame and fortune. But sadly, the musical taste of young America was rapidly changing, and the country would not (or could not) stop to listen to their dreams. This is the story of one such group: Forever Plaid.
Photos provided by Riverside Dinner Theater
- Frankie: Austin Colby/Matthew Hirsh
- Smudge: Brandon Duncan
- Sparky: David Landstrom
- Jinx: Chris Rudy
- Piano: Joel DeCandio/Anthony Smith
- Bass: Joanna Smith
- Producer: Patrick A’Hearn
- Original Staging Re-created by: Bobby Smith
- Musical Direction: Joe DeCandio
- Lighting Design: Joseph Wallen
- Costume Coordination: Gaye Law
- Scenic Coordination: Matthew Westcott
- Production Manager: Carole Shrader
- Technical Director: Phil Carlucci
- Stage Manager: Ben Feindt
- Producing Artistic Director: Patrick A’Hearn
Disclaimer: Riverside Dinner Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10293.
Amy Berlin has a degree in theatre performance from the University of Maryland, and is currently living in Richmond, Virginia.