The four members of a male harmony singing group are on their way to a gig in 1964 when a bus full of Catholic school girls plows into them and sends them to the Great Beyond.
Due to some astrophysical thing, the Plaids, as the singers are known, cannot actually rest in peace until they perform the big show they never got a chance to do in this life. That show is “Forever Plaid,” now playing at Provo Theatre Company, and it’s worth the 30-year wait these poor fictitious characters had to go through.
“Forever Plaid” is, obviously, a musical, but not in the typical sense of the word. “Musical” usually implies a story with some songs mixed in, whereas “Forever Plaid” is a lot of songs with a bit of a story mixed in. I’ve already detailed the entire plot for you; there are no surprises.
It’s suspiciously simple. “How can a show that is little more than a four-man group singing early ’60s songs be any good?” is what you may be asking yourself. The answer: I don’t know, but it is.
Part of the show’s success is due to shrewdness on the part of the writers, Stuart Ross and James Raitt. They knew the premise would wear thin after a while. That’s why there’s no intermission, and why the entire show is done in less than 90 minutes. Also, there is a surprising amount of variety in the styles of songs performed, with enough gimmicks to keep things moving. They do audience participation — in Monday’s performance, audience member LaVell Edwards had to hold a cardboard palm tree and sway it as the group sang Calypso music. They do some genuinely funny bits of dialogue and shtick. They sing “Crazy about You” and use plungers for microphones. They sing a verse of “Perfidia” in Spanish (with a terrible accent). They do a 3-minute-11-second version of “The Ed Sullivan Show” that is hysterically funny and fast-paced without being frantic or rushed. They come in too early, hold notes too long, get nosebleeds, and just generally horse around. In short, they entertain.
Another help is the four men themselves. The characters are as simple as the show, with little depth or development even intended. And yet, they are all likable and sympathetic. Even though we know nothing about them, their sheer charisma and personality shine through enough to make us like them.
The actors, Tony Akin, Brian Clark, Chris Higbee and Jason Webb, are all outstanding singers and top-notch actors. According to the biographies in the program, three of them graduated from BYU’s music/dance/theater program, and it shows. They’re all goofy smiles and innocent enthusiasm as they sing and snap their way through the show.
Also well worth mentioning are the two musicians: Ross Boothe on piano and Stephen Frandsen on bass. Both are students at Spanish Fork High School — HIGH SCHOOL students, these — and play their instruments extraordinarily well. There is little interaction between the actors and the musicians, but these guys give it their all and do a great job.
“Forever Plaid” pays homage to the guy groups with tight harmonies that prevailed in the early ’60s, and it also lovingly, gently mocks them. But mostly it celebrates those bygone days with an hour and a half of sheer energy, fun and laughter. While it may not be your typical musical, “Forever Plaid” is a break from the norm that works.
The woman next to me was VERY impressed with the fact that BYU football coach Lavell Edwards was in the audience. She pointed him out to me, and she kept looking at him to see if the stereotypically dour man was laughing. He usually was, which speaks volumes about the quality of this show.
Of course, this was not the last time that Lavell Edwards and I would cross paths at the same show -- see the review of "Erasmus Montanus" for more there.