If theaters renamed their shows to fit their productions, then Olney Theater Center’s should rename their current production of Forever Plaid to be Forever Fun. The team at Olney have put together a foot-tapping, seat-rocking, summer spectacular show.
Forever Plaid is a revue with a very loose book. The simple storyline is almost more segue than plot. The Plaids are a young up-and-coming male quartet that sings in the 50’s style of the Four Aces (significant since many of the songs that they sing are originally by the Four Aces). While on their way to pick up their new custom-made plaid tuxedos, the Plaids were hit by a busload of Catholic girls going to see the Beatles first concert in America. After 36 years in limbo, they’ve been given one shot to come back and sing the big concert that they never got to sing. Frankie (Patrick Thomas Cragin) leads his group of nervous singers through their paces. His singers are high tenor (and prone to anxiety-based nose bleeds) Jinx (Ben Martin), the garrulous baritone Sparky (Ben Lurye), and bass man Smudge (Dan Van Why) who would rather “go back” than sing before such a large audience. But despite all of their apprehensions, the boys sing, and, boy do they sing, bring down the house, get their plaid tuxedos and fade into eternity after a smashing successful swan song show.
A show like this relies heavily on the singing of the cast and director Bobby Smith has assembled a fine collection of voices. The balance and blend between the four voices is excellent and the harmonies are, well, heavenly. This foursome sounds like they are ready to head to the studio to record an album of hits. The only criticism, if you can call it that, is that they are almost too polished and professional sounding that they don’t quite come off as the humble and aspiring songsters that are written. That aside, they give an amazing concert of classic songs that earned several long and deserved rounds of applause.
Patrick Thomas Cragin as Frankie is in fine voice as the lead for this boy band. His voice is smooth and rich and he has the stage presence for a lead. His timing is good and he keeps the play and the group flowing like the music. Ben Martin, who has a beautiful clear high tenor, scores with the high money notes in several of the songs. Ben Lurye is particularly good with the comedic bits for Sparky. He gives a very credible rendition of the nerdy kid who just can’t stop blathering. And Dan Van Why is also humorous as Smudge. He sings well, both solo and in tandem, but he is more baritone than bass and although most of the time it doesn’t matter, there were a few moments (such as in “16 Tons”) where not having the deep bass was missed.
Not only is director/choreographer Bobby Smith a fine actor, singer and comedian himself (one of the highlights of MetroStage’s wonderful production of Musical of Musicals), he shows that he can both do AND teach as he directs this cast through a fun-filled production. The comedy and sight gags work well and the choreography is proficient and clean. His staging of the 3-minute Ed Sullivan show brings down the house and literally stopped the show as the audience applauded for close to a minute. Smith has a good eye for when to fill the show with bits of business and flourish and when to keep things simple and plain to highlight the wonderful singing and music. The choreography was excellent, well executed and complimented the singing. They were so good that the occasional mistakes (such as Smudge confusing left and right) looked faked and staged. Music Director Aaron Broderick does a fine job and even gets a chance to steal a little of the limelight as the on stage pianist who has to take a “union break” in the middle of the show.
This show is set to fade into eternity along with the boys soon, but it is well worth making the trek out to Olney, Maryland to see it. Throw another coin in the jukebox and join in the summer fun with Forever Plaid.
by Stuart Ross
Musical Arrangements by James Raitt
Directed and Choreographed by Bobby Smith
Music Direction by Aaron Broderick
Produced by Olney Theatre Center
Reviewed by Ted Ying
John Glass . DramaUrge