Escapism has no tool more effective than nostalgia. Forever Plaid, an off Broadway musical originally created by Stuart Ross, is a series of harmonized covers and polite sketches from a musical culture that’s been extinct for decades.
The Plaids, a close-harmony cover band in the style of ’50s boy-bands (think barbershop quartets), were, we are told, slaughtered by waves of hungry Beatles maniacs in the 60’s on the way to the Ed Sullivan Show. Due to a yearning in their soul to have performed before they died and a space-time portal opened by the hole in the ozone layer, the Plaids are back, this time at The Lamp Theater, to be milquetoast in nature and cover a few ’50s standards.
Directed by Allison Petrillo and performed by Josh List, Mickey Orange, Rob Jessop and William Elder, Forever Plaid is The Lamp Theater’s first self-produced show. There was a certain buzzing energy that could be felt at the ticket stand and the lobby before the show, an energy which translated easily to the nerve-wracked protagonists onstage. The natural, openhearted naivety nicely compliments the fledgling theater; if nothing else, beginning a first season with a warm hug of a show seems like a smart move.
Much like its cast of lovable dorks, Forever Plaid is not a show that intends to leave you with any big ideas, the various character arcs of its four leads largely intended to give the show some emotional weight in its later numbers. More than anything, the show is a passive series of ‘remember that?’ and ‘times sure have changed!’ moments. Because of the show’s accessibility and some encouraged moments of audience interaction, it is best experienced with a large group, and maybe a drink or two.
As far as the actual meat of the musical, many of the numbers performed are primarily focused on harmonies, and the choreography is there to inject moments of levity into the otherwise straightforward songs.
The humor of the show failed to hit me. It isn’t so much that the cast fail to embody the scripts’ jokes so much as the script has exactly one joke, which it repeats again and again. At a certain point, we understand that the Plaid boys are nervous academics from the ’50s. These are caricatures, meaning that on their face they are not inherently funny. They need something more to do. Social awkwardness, cultural irrelevance and effeminate physicality altered with sudden, purposeful displays of masculinity will only take them so far.
There is a satisfying conclusion to Forever Plaid’s thin plot, even if it’s a few songs too late. Some of the numbers, such as a performance of “Perfidia” that’s dedicated to a very attractive Spanish teacher the group had in high school, do a solid job of enhancing the relationship between the characters in small but meaningful ways, even if the portrait of their Perfidia that’s displayed during the song looks suspiciously like a stock photo.
Other numbers are too soaked in familiar goofs or feel too tonally one-note to be appreciable for an uninitiated audience member. Forever Plaid is a cute show and potentially a fun night at the theater, but it would do well to build its momentum from its four leads rather than the archetypical platitudes it relies so heavily upon.
Special thanks to the Lamp Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Forever Plaid runs through this weekend, tickets and more information can be found here.