It's a plaid, plaid, plaid, plaid world
BEVERLY - Knowing who you are is a beautiful thing, and "Forever Plaid" certainly does. It's a sweet, amusing revue of popular 1950s songs delivered in impressive harmonic fashion by four clean-cut, all-American boys in dinner jackets. This off-Broadway hit from the '90s has had a long and fruitful life as a regional and touring show. North Shore Music Theatre's production of it is easy and enjoyable.
While "Forever Plaid" is all about the music, there is a little plot line that explains the singers' appearance and cues up the nostalgia to come. The Plaids, as they call themselves, appear in the present through a special dispensation from the heavens and the depleting ozone layer to perform the show they never did because they were in a tragic car accident before their first big gig. They descend upon the stage a bit dazed and confused by their time travel, but soon all is well as they find all their old costumes, props, and grooves.
Frankie, Sparky, Smudge, and Jinx are musically-inclined high school friends from the audiovisual club - something that provides them with the appropriate "nerd" credentials - but this production, thankfully, does not overplay that aspect. Instead, the prevailing mood springs from the performers' idealism. The show is not deep, but audience members' ties to the tunes likely are.
From the opening song, "Three Coins in the Fountain," to "Shangri-La," and "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," these Plaids establish smooth and confident harmonies. And through a series of solos and spoken introductions to songs, the individual characters emerge. As Frankie, Adam Halpin is the upbeat group leader, pulling the other three either into the moment or into the light if they forget their staging. He's equally effective without music, delivering a rousing speech on the power of harmony and "quality silence" just before the end of the show.
Chris Crouch is a somewhat hapless Sparky, much more silly than sultry, even as he capably croons. Kevin Vortmann, in his Buddy Holly glasses, is the true highlight as Smudge, providing the group's bass notes and some of the slyest broad comedy there is to be had. His lead vocals and sight gags during "Sixteen Tons" are skillfully performed. J.D. Daw is Jinx, the Plaids' sensitive singer and the one who can hit the "money" notes. Daw plays Jinx a little too robotically, even as he sings about letting your hair down in "Cry."
Director Guy Stroman, who was an original cast member of the show, keeps "Forever Plaid" humming along without an intermission, although the performers certainly deserve one after they perform a three-minute version of "The Ed Sullivan Show." Countless variety show performers make appearances in this frantic montage, all brought to life by the Plaids and their bottomless prop boxes.
Howard C. Jones designed a simple set for the theater's in-the-round space, with a handful of surprises. Andrew David Ostrowski's lights are a silent star here, matching the illumination to a wide variety of musical styles. Even music director Eugene Gwozdz steps out of the band pit and into the action. Indeed, there is playfulness galore in "Forever Plaid" and heaps of audience interaction. Just beware the aisle seat.