Forever Plaid” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Hale Centre Theatre West Valley is doing Utah’s big sell-out shows — and you can use the term “sell-out” however you want — simultaneously.

“Forever Plaid” is being performed on weekends in the HCT Black Box Theatre, while “Joseph” is on the mainstage every night. Both shows are double-cast, so your mileage may vary.

“Forever Plaid” is the story of a fictional male-harmony group that was killed in 1964, just before they might have made the big-time. Now they’re back from the Great Beyond to do the one big show they never did in life: “Forever Plaid” is that concert, full of popular non-rock tunes from the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Casting is important for this show. It’s not enough just to have good singers: For the show to have appeal, the four guys’ personalities need to come through. The cast I saw — consisting of Sanford K. Porter, Tim Y. Jones, Andy Leger and Bart Olsen — did a fantastic job at making the production a cut above the rest.

Porter plays Frankie, the group’s leader, as a grinning but sincere game show host type. As Smudge, Jones excels at rhapsodizing over the beauty of 45s and LPs — a moment in the show that is often tossed aside as unimportant.

Usually, it is Sparky who emerges as the most memorable Plaid. Leger is great in the role, with a wide-eyed, Joey-on-“Friends” sort of innocent dumbness about him — but this time it’s Jinx who is most endearing. Olsen plays the character with a perpetually worried, soft-spoken sensitivity — I kept thinking of Charlie Brown — and his show-stopping performance in “Cry” gives the show its heart and soul.

Casting for “Joseph” is not nearly as important, at least not the way the show is usually produced. As long as the title character is handsome and toothy and everyone can sing, the rest of the responsibility falls on the flashy special effects, large-scale sight gags and as many sinewy, loincloth-clad striplings as you can fit on the stage to bring in audiences. Hale Centre’s production has all of that.

It also has above-average orchestrations (by Mearle Marsh) and vigorous choreography (by Marilyn May Montgomery, who also directed). It’s a fast-paced, almost perfunctory production, screeching to a halt only in the two usual places: Pharaoh’s Elvis impersonation that for some reason requires him to ad-lib a few Austin Powers-worthy pick-up lines to the women in the audience (“Your name must be Campbell, because you’re mm-mm-good”); and the brothers’ “Those Canaan Days,” which employs the logic that if a joke is funny when it lasts five seconds, it must be 10 times as funny when it’s dragged on for 50. There’s also an ill-conceived “Close Every Door” reprise at the end that sticks out like a sore thumb.

The theater’s amazing Technicolor revolving stage increases the show’s fluidity and impressive visual appeal. First-timers in particular will enjoy this production of what really is a delightful, high-spirited show. “Forever Plaid”: A “Joseph”: B+

I don't like combining two reviews into one, but in this case several factors conspired to make it happen. For one thing, The Daily Herald wanted to devote less space to non-Provo-area events, so one review was more likely to get through than two. Also, it was really too perfect: Utah's two most popular shows, being done at the same time at the same theater. It seemed fitting to take care of them both with one review.