nytheatre.com review by Matt Schicker
April 28, 2006
There’s no way to anticipate the delightful performance of Forever Plaid that awaits you as you approach the entrance to The Greek Cultural Center, the temporary home of Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC). As you walk down Hoyt Avenue, there’s no indication that there’s a theatre nearby, and when you do finally locate the address, you discover the venue is reached by walking on a path through what appears to be someone’s front yard. The small basement theatre space is less than glamorous, with its low tin ceiling, awkward “L” shape, and a large pillar situated in the middle of the audience.
The creative minds behind the production have, in fact, used the small size and scrappy feel of the venue to their advantage. Forever Plaid works magic in this little room with just talent, a piano, and some lights. With the actors an arm's length away from the front row, much of the evening’s enjoyment comes from the four talented actor/singers’ close proximity to the audience. Their energy is infectious, and there’s a certain excitement that comes from knowing that there’s no faking it here; these guys ace the difficult tight harmony singing and genuinely win the audience’s hearts.
Forever Plaid has a strange premise: a '50s-style guy group named Forever Plaid has returned from the dead (they were killed in a car accident on the way to their first big gig in 1964) to perform the ultimate show they never were able to in life. They sing sentimental standards and novelty tunes in the vein of The Four Freshmen and The Hi-Los, and having finally performed the show, they believe they can move on from limbo. During the show the guys squabble about their individual personality quirks, girls, and, mostly, music, which provides great opportunities for some very funny gags. But the highlights definitely are the musical numbers themselves, which are by turns hilarious and touching.
These kinds of groups were as famous for their in-sync choreography as for their close harmonies. Director-choreographer Brian J. Swasey faithfully recreates the style including infinite variations on dipping a mic stand as if it were a dancing partner. Swasey’s handling of an 11-minute speed rundown of all the famous Ed Sullivan regulars exhibits expert timing, as does “Caribbean Plaid,” an audience-interactive calypso number which brings Act One to a rousing close. Both numbers feature wonderfully funny props provided by Tracey Theatre Originals.
The four gentlemen playing the Plaids—Shad Olsen, Ryan J. Ratliff, Joseph Torello, and Frederick Hamilton—are terrific and the show is a great showcase for each of their talents. They are equally adept at crooning sensitively or executing over-the-top comic bits. Olsen is charming and magnetic as the lisping Sparky and is a vocal standout in his solos. At the top of Act Two we also discover that he is a talented pianist. Ratliff, as Jinx, impresses with his beautiful high tenor voice and expert comic skills; his rendition of “Cry,” which he carefully builds to an emotional and vocal frenzy, stops the show. The nerdy bass Smudge is played by Torello, who exhibits a comic flair and also a great voice, the full range of which is well-used by the end of the evening. As Frankie, the Plaids’ leader, Hamilton is appropriately on edge as he tries to keep a good face on things, even when they go uncontrollably wrong (as in the number “Perfidia”). Near the end of the show, Hamilton delivers an impassioned speech which is the evening’s sole moment of real dramatic weight. Musical Director Jeffrey Campos on piano and Byrne Clay on upright bass provide great accompaniment and support, and Campos is to be commended for his part in helping the four singers nail the very difficult tight harmony arrangements.
Ultimately Forever Plaid is fun for all—a well done evening’s entertainment with lots of laughs and great music. If hearing “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” sung by a quartet of young men makes you misty, you may just get a bit of genuine nostalgia out of the evening as well.