FOREVER PLAID (Montgomery): Always on song

Republished by kind permission from Neals Paper
fp-1Of all the variety pieces that have become ensemble favorites—Nunsense, Altar Boyz, The Calamari Sisters—Stuart Ross’s FOREVER PLAID is the most durable because its music supersedes any gimmickry a director feels compelled to build into it.

You like the story, about four young man performing the concert they were rehearsing when they were killed in an accident between their Mercury convertible and a school bus in 1964, and the characters, but it is the combination of standards, rock and roll hits, calypso numbers, and specialty material that keeps you interested and waiting eagerly to hear the next song.

Stephen Casey’s production of PLAID for Souderton’s Montgomery Theater, has shtick galore, most of it well thought-out and well-played, but it attains and maintains its luster via the gorgeously tight harmonies of Carl Nathaniel Smith, Mike Dorsey, Connor McAndrews, and Craig O’Brien. You would never know this quartet was formed by audition and rehearsal. They sound so perfect together, you’d think they’d been doing doo-wopp on street corners and high school bathrooms for years. Their lush, elegant tone turns everything from ballads like “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” and “Moments to Remember” to novelty pieces like Perry Como’s 50s hits and pop songs like “Sha Boom” or “Matilda” into the proverbial wonderful wall of sound.

The guys are also deft as comedians, and Casey keeps the hijinks in better and more careful check than many directors, Some moves may be excessive, such as one in which Smith bends to ties his shoes,” but most are more built into character traits such as O’Brien’s Smudge never knowing left from right in dance and other moves or Dorsey’s Jinx constantly tending to a nose that bleeds when he’s nervous. The Montgomery cast keep all things light and efficient. Their calypso sequence and one centered on activities at a catered wedding are fun, and the troupe makes an hilarious romp of the various acts that compose the typical “Ed Sullivan Show.”plaid -- interior

Dorsey, in addition to having an angelic first tenor voice, plays “Lady of Spain” on the accordion while Smith, O’Brien, and McAndrews breeze through a panoply of dance steps — ballet, Latin, tap — while crooning, singing opera, mimicking Señor Wences and Topo Gigio, and spinning plates on sticks as “The Saber Dance” plays in the background.

Smith has built a reputation for ability in all phases of performance. He proves to be a great dancer and physical comedian while keeping his part as the second tenor in the lovely harmonies. O’Brien handles moments when Smudge is anxious about solo moments with comic aplomb.

Dorsey, whether in ensemble or singing solo, impresses with one of the purest and most beautiful voices you’ll ever hear. He gives songs extra feeling because of his sincerity and ability to just croon enchantingly.

McAndrews is a good foil to the others. He is the most serious of the Plaids and tries to keep the others in order. Ross has given a lot of plot details, most of which are jokes even if lines and stories are not delivered for laughs.

Much of the comedy comes from the Plaids being a musically talented but theatrically inexperienced local group that primarily plays bowling alleys, sock hops, and hotel lounges. Some of the ideas the guys think are clever and some of the byplay within songs would not cut muster. Casey and company fortunately never get too carried away on side shtick. And then there are moments or two that are inspired, such as Dorsey and McAndrews playing slapping spoons in rhythm to get the clink of convict’s chains in the “Chain Gang” number.

The comedy is good, the cast is bright, but the singing is glorious. Hearing it, you’d put with any gimmick to see a PLAID show. Heck, if Smith, Dorsey, McAndrews, and O’Brien formed their own quartet, I go to see it with the eagerness with which I await Jeff Coon, Fran Prisco, and J.P. Dunphy’s “Cape May Summer Club.” Stuart Ross knew what he was doing, even with the kitschy comedy, when he put FOREVER PLAID together. Smith, Dorsey, McAndrews, and O’Brien showcase the cleverness and musical acuity of his work. Read more on Neals Paper >>>

[Montgomery Theatre, 124 N. Main Street, Souderton, PA] April 14-May 8, 2-16;

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