In Raleigh Little Theatre and Actors Comedy Lab's crowd-pleasing joint production of Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, Stuart Ross' cute 2003 sequel to his hit 1990 Off-Broadway musical, the four twenty-something members of the heavenly 1960s close-harmony guy group return to Earth on another mysterious mission from above — spurred on this time by enigmatic clues from the late, great Rosemary Clooney. In this latest temporary reprieve from joining the heavenly choir, The Forever Plaids get to perform the Christmas concert that was still in the early planning stages on Feb. 9, 1964, when the boys died in a car-bus collision on the way to their breakthrough gig — in the lounge of an Airport Hilton, hear Harrisburg, PA.
Ironically, it was a bus full of excited Catholic schoolgirls on their way to witness The Beatles' historic debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" that crashed into the boys' 1954 Mercury, obliterating the cherry-red ragtop and killing the quartet instantly. What a great metaphor. The British invasion, led by The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, figuratively put a big dent the careers of other heretofore popular close-harmony guy groups, such as The Lettermen, The Four Lads, and the Hi-Los. So, it is fitting that ecstatic fans of the Fab Four literally buried The Forever Plaids, four high school friends who met in the audiovisual club in 1956 and took their name from the specially made tuxedoes, with matching plaid bowties and cummerbunds, that they wore onstage.
In the current production of Plaid Tidings, David Adams as Sparky, Jason Justice as Frankie, Jon Karnofsky as Jinx, and Jim Tarantino as Smudge create heavenly harmonies on “Strangers in Paradise,” “Hey There,” “The Christmas Song,” “Let It Snow,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” These four very funny lads ham it up delightfully in “Sha-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream),” “Bésame Mucho” / “Kiss of Fire,” “Mambo Italiano,” “Mele Kalikimaka,” and especially the “Christmas Calypso” with “Day-O” and “Matilda” and a priceless three-minute and 11-second parody of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” featuring vivid vignettes spoofing Sullivan regulars, such as The Vienna Boys Choir, the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, plate spinners, ballet dancers, the Spanish ventriloquist Señor Wences, the Italian mouse puppet Topo Gigio, Alvin and the Chipmunks, etc.
The highly talented husband-and-wife team of Rod and Nancy Rich have directed and choreographed the Plaid Tidings with lots of snap, crackle, and pop. The monkey business that Rod Rich injects into the proceedings and Nancy Rich’s deliberately cheesy choreography for The Forever Plaids’ production numbers really heighten the show’s hilarity, and the Actors Comedy Lab co-founders have combined with veteran Raleigh Little Theatre musical director and pianist Harrison Fisher and a bass player (Aaron Bittikofer, Dave Aduddell, Ed Moon, and Dan Zehr rotate) to make the music of Plaid Tidings as much fun as the comedy. Plus, technical director and set and lighting designer Thomas Mauney has created a nifty nightclub set in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre—which is perfect as a backdrop for The Forever Plaids’ latest cosmic comeback.
During the opening-night performance on Dec. 5th, Plaid Tidings quickly won the audience’s heart with endearing comic characterizations by David Adams as Sparky, the group’s resident jokester whose wisecracks keep the other Plaids loose; Jason Justice as Frankie, the passionate leader of the Plaid-pack whose asthma acts up whenever the pace of the performance picks up; Jon Karnofsky as Sparky’s shy stepbrother Jinx, a terrific tenor who is prone to nose bleeds whenever he strains to hit the high notes; and Jim Tarantino as Smudge, a card-carrying pessimist and an inveterate worrywart with a nervous stomach and a suitcase full of regrets. Messrs. Adams, Justice, Karnofsky, and Tarantino not only give Plaid Tidings four distinct and sympathetic personalities, but they happily harmonize on all or part of 35 separate songs that earned this funny foursome a standing ovation on Dec. 5th and, my sources tell me, every performance since.
Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible.