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Forever Plaid, the nifty 2006 season-opener for Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy, is a rock-and-roll revue with lots and lots of heart. Originally conceived, scripted, and staged by director/choreographer Stuart Ross, this singular show is a charming, witty, and affectionate tribute to the male harmony groups of the 1950s and early 1960s, such as the Ames Brothers, the Four Aces, the Four Freshmen, and the Four Lads.
Neatly coifed and nattily attired, they were American idols until Feb. 9, 1964, when The Beatles made their historic first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The British Invasion of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, followed by The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark 5, etc., caused a sea-change in the American pop-music scene. Wholesome harmony groups seemed hopelessly square compared to the scruffy mop tops from Liverpool and London.
Forever Plaid is the story of another fabulous foursome: Frankie the charismatic leader (Adam Halpin), Sparky the wisecracking cutup (Matthew Addison), Jinx the high-strung bundle of nerves (Brian Norris), and Smudge the horn-rim-glasses-wearing worrywart (Allan Snyder), a semi-pro men’s harmony group from eastern Pennsylvania who were killed in a car wreck on their way to their first big gig in the cocktail bar their local airport Hilton. The date was Feb. 9, 1964; and the car carrying Forever Plaid was obliterated by a tour bus full of excited Catholic girls on their way to hear The Beatles sing on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Through a simple (or, maybe, not so simple) twist of fate, Forever Plaid lingers on Earth and returns 42 years later to give the star-making performance that they never got to give in 1964. Messrs. Halpin, Addison, Norris, and Snyder are more than up to the task. Their warm and winning performances last night earned them and accompanists McCrae Hardy (piano) and Damon Brown (stand-up bass) a lengthy standing ovation on opening night, May 31st.
Opening the show with “Three Coins in the Fountain,” Forever Plaid amused and royally entertained first-nighters with rousing harmonies, soaring solos, and a smattering of shtick and patter appropriate for rusty but enthusiastic amateurs on the cusp of pop-music stardom. Keeping that raw edge and that raw energy and neatly differentiating the characters are two of the things that director/choreographer/Smudge Allan Snyder does best.
Outstanding moments in an evening of superlative performances include Brian Norris’ lead vocals on “No, Not Much,” “Lady of Spain,” and especially “Cry”; Matthew Addison’s solos on “Perfidia” and “Catch a Falling Star”; Adam Halpin’s featured vocals on “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Chain Gang,” and “Heart and Soul”; Allan Snyder’s finger-snapping rendition of “Sixteen Tons” and glasses-flinging vocal on “Rags to Riches”; and the group’s stirring a cappella version of “Scotland the Brave,” their uproarious “The Plaids Go Calypso” segment, their ringing rendition of “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” and their wonderful white-bread version of “She Loves You,” in which “She loves you, yes siree” replaces “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
UNC-TV “North Carolina Weekend” host Deborah Holt made the most of her brief moment in the spotlight during her walk-on performance; and musical director McCrae Hardy and Damon Brown added hot licks on piano and bass, with Hardy joining in the monkey business when he had to don a Carmen Miranda-type fruit-salad-supreme hat for the “The Plaids Go Calypso” section. Technical director and lighting designer Curtis Jones, scenic artist Sonya Drum, and costume designer Caitlin Smith handsomely dressed the Kennedy Theater stage and cast for success; and sound designer Brian Hunt and sound engineer Andy Wellons did yeoman’s work in keeping the vocals and the instrumentals clear and sharp throughout the charismatic return of Forever Plaid.
Despite its soundtrack of hits from the 1950s and early 1960s, Forever Plaid is not just another nostalgic musical walk down Memory Lane for the Baby Boomers in the audience. It is a delightful full developed backstage musical comedy about four guys with personality plus—and lots of hilarious quirks — who finally get the chance to makeup for the raw deal they got 42 years ago with one singular evening when they can finally sing their hearts out. Don’t miss it.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents Forever Plaid Wednesday-Saturday, May 31-June 3 and June 7-10, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 4 and 11, at 3 p.m. in the Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $140 season ticket or $25 per show, with senior and group discounts available and $5 off for anyone who wears plaid and $10 off for anyone who wears a kilt. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060 or via the presenter's site. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/. Forever Plaid: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/foreverplaid.htm [inactive 5/07]. Official Forever Plaid Web Site: http://www.foreverplaid.com/ [inactive 10/24/07].