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'Forever Plaid' suits lovers of older music

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 7

 

WAUKESHA - “Forever Plaid” by Scott Ross first hit the stage in 1990. Since then, it has been a big hit, first running here in Milwaukee in 1999, where it delighted audiences for a record 24 weeks. It returned again in 2003 at Vogel Hall and at the Skylight Music Theatre in an alternate version, “Plaid Tidings,” in 2009. 

Now The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Theater has begun its 10-week run.

In a world often roiled in turmoil, it is refreshing to spend 90 minutes returning to a more innocent period where harmony and playfulness dominate. This production will lighten your spirits as four talented vocalists take you back to the 1950s and ‘60s and share some of the music of that era. If you’re not old enough to remember, perhaps your parents have shared their music with you. If not, here’s a delicious introduction to it.

Besides giving each singer a distinct personality, the writer has created a context for them. This young quartet was killed in a car accident as they journeyed toward their first big gig. For some mysterious reason, they have been allowed to return to earth for one concert, an opportunity which they regard with gratitude and excitement. It is a dream come true for them and, as it turns out, for us, as well.

The stylistic moves, prevalent with ensemble singers of this period, are mildly satirized along the way. Some of the humor is a product of these gyrations, but there are other amusing touches, as well. The characters themselves with their insecurities, their physical ailments, their innocence, their costuming choices, their romanticizing of show biz, their unusual props, especially those used in their reconstruction of the Ed Sullivan Show, and their adoration of Perry Como’s gold cardigan - all keep us laughing even as we are relishing their tight harmonies and the resonance of their solo voices.

Some of the standards included in their repertoire were “Three Coins in a Fountain,” “No, Not Much,” “Gotta Be This or That,” “Heart and Soul,” “Crazy ‘Bout Ya, Baby,” “Rags to Riches,” “Shangri-La,” “Perfidia,” “Sixteen Tons,”  “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” and “Moments to Remember.”

The four entertainers who play the parts of Frankie, Sparky, Jinx and Smudge are delightful to watch and listen to. 

Frankie (Nate Lewellyn) is the take-charge nerdy one; Sparky (Adam Estes) thinks he’s cool and likes to ham it up; Jinx (Paul Helm) is shy and has nose bleeds, but knocks us out with his version of “Cry” and charms us with his innocence; and Anard Nagraj is sometimes out of sync with the choreography but never with his beautiful bass voice. His “Rags to Riches” and “Sixteen Tons” are dazzling.

There’s a bit of audience involvement, which adds to the connection. We participate in the rendering of “Matilda,” and one brave audience member takes part in playing “Heart and Soul” on the piano. Colleen Schmitt does the honors the rest of the time and is an accomplished accompanist.

The colorful set with some built-in surprises was fashioned by Megan Truscott and serves as a perfect backdrop. Ably directed by guest director JC Clementz, “Forever Plaid” runs through Dec. 29 with multiple shows per week. The past is never out of style. There will always be those who want to remember. Be sure to take advantage of this offering.

“Forever Plaid” runs through Dec. 29 at the Stackner Cabaret located in The Intercontinental Hotel, 108 E. Wells St. Call

414-224-9490 for show times and tickets or visit www.milwaukeerep.com