Tuesday, October 28, 2014

theatre review FOREVER PLAID, Palms Theatre, October 22

To read my review at Talkin' Broadway, click here.

Nicholas Gallardo, Will Leonard, Matthew Chappell and Danny Karapetian
For a show that got its big break in a very small Off Broadway club in New York City almost twenty-five years ago, Forever Plaidhas found ongoing success virtually around the world. The small musical is a trip down memory lane with over two dozen songs from the '50s and '60s in lush arrangements, sung by four gents in a humorous and charming story of their lives. The Palms Theatre opens their 2014 musicals series with a solid production that features four gifted guys giving witty, original performances.

The upbeat show tells the story of four clean-cut high school lads from the early 1960s. They are a singing quartet who call themselves "The Plaids" and dream of recording an album. Their only problem? When the show begins we learn they were killed in a car accident, right before they could record their record, when they were struck by a bus of Parochial schoolgirls who were on their way to see the Beatles debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The girls survived but the Plaids did not. However, they've just returned from the afterlife for another chance at musical success.

Director/choreographer Stuart Moulton makes just about all the right choices—from his ability to draw age appropriate performances from the four actors to his skill in the varied, humorous and period perfect dance moves. I've seen several productions of this show but this is the first time I clearly got the distinct characteristics that set each of the four apart from each other as well as the sweet nature they all possess. Also, the way Moulton has his actors instill their characters with stilted movements at the beginning of the show, since it's been a while since they've performed and they are a bit rusty, is perfectly played. However, the first few minutes are also a bit clunky, with the four entering from the audience, and the busywork of setting the scene is a bit unclear. Fortunately, that's the only very small misstep in Moulton's direction.

Since there isn't a lot of story beyond the simple plot and a few choice remembrances each of the guys tells about his past, it's necessary that the four Plaids are played by talented actors with excellent voices who are able to assay the various characteristic of each Plaid and harmonize perfectly together. The Palms production is exceptionally well cast, with good actors and singers who look naturally different from each other, which helps to instantly tell them apart.

The show is a complete ensemble piece with each guy also getting a chance or two to solo. Danny Karapetian as Sparky is the most comical, with his speech impediment occasionally flaring up, yet he also provides a touching solo on "Catch a Falling Star" and gets to show off his piano playing skills during "Heart and Soul." As Jinx, Nicolas Gallardo has the best voice of the quartet and his solo of "Cry" is a huge crowd pleaser. Matthew Chappell is charming as Smudge. While he worries a lot and most of his dance moves are opposite and backwards from the other guys, his solo on "16 Tons" is richly delivered. As Frankie, Will Leonard is the pseudo leader of the group and has a natural connection with the audience, delivering some lovely vocals.

There are many humorous and touching moments in the show. While the performance of "Lady of Spain" during a very prop heavy "Ed Sullivan Show" sequence is extremely funny, the sumptuous, a capella version of "Scotland the Brave" is appropriately heartfelt. These are just two of the many highlights of the show.

Tia Hawkes' costume designs include impeccably crisp tuxedos for the guys. Lighting Designer Russell A. Thompson provides some lush moments, including a lovely star-filled sky effect, and Brian Honsberger's sound design is perfectly clear. Music director Stephen Schermitzler and music supervisor Khris Dodge have derived beautiful harmonies from the Plaids as well as a rich, full sound from the small onstage band.

Featuring many familiar old songs from a simpler time, Forever Plaid is a fun show that oozes charm and charisma. With lush harmonies delivered by four very talented singers, and fun, inventive choreography and direction, The Palms Theatre production is a crowd pleaser.

The Palms Theatre production of Forever Plaid runs through November 22nd, 2014, at 5247 East Brown Road in Mesa. Tickets and information for their upcoming productions can be found atthepalmstheatre.com or by calling 480 924-6260

Photo: Mike Benedetto / The Palms Theatre

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