Forever Plaid

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I recall the first time I saw “Forever Plaid,” about a year ago. I thought, “My, what a nice little show. I’d like to see this again sometime.”

Well, every theater in Utah apparently read my mind, because it’s being done everywhere. Between that and “Joseph,” one never sees anything else anymore.

The current incarnation, at Hale Center Theater Orem, manages to infuse new life into the show, though, making the production worth seeing, even if you’ve seen “Forever Plaid” a time or two already.

It’s a musical, but not a typical one. The eponymous Plaids are a four-man harmony group who, in 1964, were killed while traveling to their first big gig. Now, 34 years later, they are given a chance to come back and do that one big show they never got to do in life. We are the audience; “Forever Plaid” is that show.

That’s the plot — all of it. The entire show (and it’s a short show anyway, only about 90 minutes) consists of the Plaids doing their thing. They sing old standards like “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” crack jokes with the audience, and fret about whether they still remember their choreography after all these years (joke spoiler: they don’t).

This is a show whose success rests squarely on the shoulders of the performers. The four actors must be excellent singers, obviously, but they need to make the characters come across well, too. Frankly, just watching four guys sing — no matter how good they sounded — would be dull. The trick is to make the characters fun, to have amusing choreography, and to keep things moving.

Hale Center’s version succeeds at all of that.

Under the direction of Syd Riggs — in whose hands nearly everything turns to gold anyway — “Forever Plaid” is an enjoyable, thoroughly entertaining show. The Hale Center Theater is in the round — unusual for this show. But Riggs makes it work, with the four singers moving around the stage and into the audience, ensuring that no one has his back to any part of the audience for very long.

All the parts are double-cast; this review refers to the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday group. Derek Call, as Sparky, stands out as the most energetic and silly. His face is in constant motion, occasionally over-doing the goofiness, but generally seeming just full of giddy energy.

That giddy energy is at the heart of the whole show, really. Jason Webb, as the group’s apparent leader Frankie, conveys it well in his mannerisms, grinning widely in a way that just makes you LIKE him, darn it.

Jake Fry and Richard Webb, as Jinx and Smudge, round out the cast and are also very enjoyable. All four characters are made to seem likable — essential, because it gets the audience on their side and keeps them there the whole time.

All four men are very talented singers. Each of them gets at least one “showcase” number, with Fry’s “Cry” and Call’s “Perfidia” (complete with atrocious Spanish) being among the more notable ones.

The choregraphy is simple and daft, often relying on the principle that if someone is dressed up nicely in a dinner jacket and bow tie, practically any unusual body movement will be funny. (And if you have four guys doing it all together, that’s even funnier.) (And if you put fruit on their heads for a Calypso number — well then!)

I’ve seen the number where they use tall plungers instead of microphones (that’s how they always practiced it, you see) in three difference productions now, and it still makes me laugh. It’s so simple, and yet they do it with such glee and childlike abandon, that you can’t help but smile.

That’s what makes “Forever Plaid,” if it’s done well, a great show: innocent charm and playfulness. It’s funny, it’s cute, it’s entertaining — and packed tightly inside of it is a whole lot of talent.

Though "Forever Plaid" is indeed a good show, it is quite possible to overdo it. Utah reached that point rather quickly.

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