This was not my first venture into the world of "Plaid" - I have seen the show over a dozen times over the past two decades, have directed it on multiple occasions and have the book and score pretty well etched on my brain. However, I will say that it was one of the best PLAID productions I have ever seen and, if you are in the vicinity of Palm Desert and The McCallum Theatre, it is not to be missed. FOREVER PLAID is really a near-perfect little musical with a wonderful score of 50's standards and clever dialogue and comedic bits that never grow old, if executed well. This incarnation of PLAIDS - Roger Befelor, Stan Chandler, David Engel and David Humphrey did just that. (Both Chandler and Engel starred in the original Off-Broadway production). The program gave no credit to a director, only that it was originally directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross, but whomever was at the helm delivered a spot on production!
The only way PLAID works is if the four characters are honest, believable, like-able and never "go for the funny". They play it for truth and let the funny find them. It was so refreshing and satisfying to see this team choose subtle over broad and choose truth over punchline. They may have garnered a bigger belly laugh here or there by overplaying the comedy bits --- as I have seen in many a Plaid past --- but, instead, they played for the truth of the moment and were endearing to a tee.
Roger Befelor's "Frankie" provided a strong anchor for the quartet and David Humphrey's "Sparky" showed great restraint in delivering comic moments that could easily have been too over the top. David Engel (Smudge) was ever-charming and his bass notes in the "Chain-Gang" sequence are to die for. But it was Stan Chandler's "Jinx" who ran away with the show. His vocal performance in "Cry" and his carefully nuanced transformation of Jinx from dormouse to heart-throb was a showstopper and the thunderous applause, that truly stopped the show, was a from-the gut reaction of an appreciative audience. His solo vocals throughout were by far the most satisfying of the four.
But it is when they sing as a group that it is pure magic. Their harmonies were as tight as I have seen in a PLAID troupe and the individual vocal qualities blended together as if they were born to sing together. The sound mix was very strong throughout although a little heavy on the reverb and, in my opinion, a little unnecessary. This dream team of Plaids never let the humorous bits of physical comedy, embedded in every musical number, wag the dog. Instead, their high quality harmonies were always front and center.
Stuart Ross has crafted a timeless book to accompany the timeless songbook. He should really be commended for being at the forefront of the "jukebox musical" phenomenon that, later, brought us Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys and the like. He has given each of the Plaids dimension and created a show where "heart" lies at the very heart.
The Ed Sullivan sequence - which is a master class in old-fashioned "silly" - was the big hit of the show. The desert audiences generally tend to lean toward the octogenarian, so they were very familiar with all of the Sullivan cast of characters being spoofed and couldn't get enough of it. A standing ovation followed and was justly deserved.
FOREVER PLAID has three more performances at The McCallum Theatre and there is limited seating available. If you have no other plans - or if you have plans that can be changed - don't miss this gem of a musical! For further information or to purchase tickets to FOREVER PLAID or upcoming performances at The McCallum Theatre, visit www.mccallumtheatre.org.