Forever Plaid Captures That 1950s Sound

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geordie brown, kyle gillis, anders balderston, simon gordon

Before there were Jersey Boys, there was Stuart Ross’ 1990 Off-Broadway Jukebox musical revue Forever Plaid, which closes with two shows today at the Chester Playhouse.

This pastiche of the boy band pop music of the 1950s, specifically centering on much of the repertoire of the Four Aces, centers on a group called The Plaids. Their careers are cut short in a deadly car crash, and they emerge out of purgatory to recreate their show for one last audience. The conceit is ridiculous, the characters are flimsy composites of aspiring barbershop quartet singers of the day, even the songs (although sweet and lovely) aren’t infectious and vigorous like those influenced by rock n’ roll a little later, but the harmonies- the four voices singing in harmony are DIVINE.

The four performers bringing Forever Plaid to life at Chester Playhouse are Anders Balderston, Geordie Brown, Kyle Gillis and Simon Gordon and their gorgeous, lush, voices are equally well suited to singing both the lead track and the era’s signature doo-wop backups and harmonies. Together, their vocals are tightly melded and they capture beautifully the style and the mastery of bands like the Four Aces and this particular musical sound.

Individually, Sparky, Jinx, Smudge and Frankie, are all unlikely music stars: working class boys with social awkwardness and nervous tics. Balderston, Brown, Gillis and Gordon bring a genuine endearing charm to them. You believe in their support and devotion to one another and the ardent dedication to their dreams. It is a testament to these four young performers that I found myself being at times moved by the tragedy of these lives cut short, despite the absurdity of the narrative! Kyle Gillis’ sheer vocal prowess when belting out his tunes gives Frankie immediate star power. He also shines in comedic moments, most notably throughout the entire “Caribbean Plaid” number, especially his “thinking dance.” Anders Balderston captures pure joy in everything he does, which makes him an absolute delight to watch. Geordie Brown has a sweet voice and, although his character seems at times a bit too cartoon-like at the beginning of the show, as things get sillier into Act II he is able to make great use of his more flamboyant comic sensibilities. Simon Gordon is adorable as the panic-stricken Smudge, and his bass vocals in “Sixteen Tons/Chain Gang” are one of the highlights of the show.

Director Mary Lou Martin finds a lot of opportunities for fun that gives Forever Plaid the exuberance that make its silliness joyful instead of dumb. There is a sequence with plungers that is delightful, and every time the boys do the soft shoe my face lit up like Christmas tree lights. The Plaids’ choreography is magical when it cements as tightly as their harmonies, but it isn’t there as sharply as it could be yet. The moment that truly captures Martin’s proficiency in directing musical theatre is the laugh-out-loud hilarious three minute Ed Sullivan Show montage.

It can be difficult to discuss the dichotomy of certain crowd pleasing shows and their artistic shortcomings without sounding pretentious and risking offending the audience. It is a fact that there are quite a few shows, like Forever Plaid, that can transcend their problematic dramaturgical weaknesses with good direction and a strong cast and can be blithe and fun evenings of entertainment that find widespread appeal. This production is certainly one of them. Ultimately, of course, the theatre is for everyone and Chester Playhouse offers an eclectic mixture of theatrical offerings for its patrons each summer. For something quite different Siminovitch Prize winner Daniel MacIvor’s newest play Something Small will make its world premiere at the Playhouse August 7-10th. Next up is Haligonian favourite Jeremy Webb’s play Fishing, which plays July 31st to August 3rd, 2013.

For more information about these plays and the rest of Chester Playhouse’s 2013 Summer Season please visit this website, or call 902.275.3933 or toll free 1.800.363.7529 or visit the Box Office at 22 Pleasant Street in Chester, Nova Scotia. 

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