Question: When are four guys who are dressed in matching dinner jackets and using tall plungers as microphones NOT funny? Answer: Never!
That’s the secret behind the success of “Forever Plaid”: The humor is understated and simple, whimsical and childlike, harmonizing perfectly with the nostalgic late-’50s/early-’60s songs being sung.
Some productions of this show poke gentle fun at that era; the one at the Utah Shakespearean Festival’s fall season genuinely celebrates it, while having a hilarious good time.
In case you haven’t seen any of the numerous Utah productions of this show in the last couple years — of which this one is just about the best, by the way — here’s the deal. In 1964, a four-part guy-harmony group called the Plaids were on their way to their first big gig when their car collided with a bus and killed them.
Now, 35 years later, they are permitted to come back and do the one big show they never got to do in life — and “Forever Plaid” is that show.
We’re treated to renditions of “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Heart and Soul,” and a three-minute version of “The Ed Sullivan Show” while “Lady of Spain” is performed on accordion.
Much of the humor lies in the amusingly quaint choreography of the Plaids. Anything done in unison by four guys dressed the same is almost automatically funny; when one of them forgets a step or comes in to early (it’s been 35 years, after all), it’s even funnier.
Two things make “Forever Plaid” either succeed or fail: You gotta have good singers, and your four guys gotta be likable. This production has both.
Jinx (Jered Tanner) is the timid one with nose bleeds; he and step-brother Sparky (Gregory Ivan Smith) are the lovable, boyish characters that win an audience over immediately. (Sparky has a lisp that is fairly annoying, though, and it should be dropped altogether — especially since it keeps coming and going anyway.)
Smudge (Brian Vaughn), who sings bass, gets asthma attacks when nervous, and the group’s leader Frankie (Michael Fitzpatrick) generally keeps things together.
Each of the four gets a solo at some point, and all four work together marvelously as an ensemble. This is a charismatic, endearing show full of silly humor and exuberant optimism. It’s a feel-good show, but without the cheesiness or over-sentimentality normally associated with “feel-good shows.”
When a production can make you forget how tired you are of that show, that's a sign of a great production.
My 150th show for The Daily Herald! To celebrate, I did, um, nothing. But it was cool.