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Earning Its Stripes

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It would seem almost unpatriotic to say anything negative about Stuart Ross’ slight musical frolic “Forever Plaid,” now at Plummer Auditorium under the auspices of the Fullerton Civic Light Opera.

It’s a valentine to an America in a more naive frame of mind, to an era when pop music rang with melody, when young people had dreams that lasted more than 15 minutes.

That the piece is slight doesn’t matter. It’s pure entertainment and the perfect way to pass a warm summer evening. It makes no demands on its audience, and its gifts caress the ear and often tickle the funny bone. There’s bountiful evidence here why it ran for more than four years off-Broadway from 1990 to 1995 and has been playing continually around the country since then.

The harmony group the Four Plaids, Jinx (Paul Binotto), Francis (Neil Nash), Smudge (Bruce Thompson) and Sparky (Michael Winther), met in an audiovisual class in 1956 and began singing together in the style of their heroes, such as the Four Aces, the Four Lads, and the Crewcuts.

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On the night of their most important gig, at the Airport Hilton cocktail lounge, their car was broadsided by a bus full of excited teens on their way to see the Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” All four young men were killed instantly, but have been kept in limbo until they perform the show they missed that night.

*

The Fullerton production, directed and staged by the author, features two members of the original New York company (Binotto, Winther) and two from the long-running Los Angeles company. The silken smooth vocal arrangements are by James Raitt, and the sparkling musical direction is by Andy Chukerman.

The amazing blend of the four singers is a delight in an array of pop hits from “Shangri-La” and “Moments to Remember” to “Rags to Riches” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.” The quartet glides through almost 30 familiar tunes, including solos for each thatprove that a group singer can be more than a group singer.

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The sauce that holds the stew together is the impetuous fun they have during and between numbers. Ross’ staging provides some of the laughs, but the guys execute it with such joy it becomes infectious. Particularly funny--don’t blink or you’ll miss something--is their reproduction of the entire Ed Sullivan show “in three minutes and 50 seconds.”

This is memory lane stuff, and it’s a pleasant stroll that will appeal not only to those who were there, but also to a younger audience interested in where what they have today came from.

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* “Forever Plaid,” Fullerton Civic Light Opera, Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; also July 19 at 7 p.m. and July 25 at 2 p.m. Ends July 26. $14-$33. (714) 879-1732. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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Paul Binotto: Jinx

Neil Nash: Francis

Bruce Thompson: Smudge

Michael Winther: Sparky

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A Fullerton CLO production, by arrangement with Gene Wolsk/Laura Stein and Dorsie Hecht, of Stuart Ross’ musical. Directed and staged by Ross. Musical direction: Andy Chukerman. Scenic design: Neil Peter Jampolis. Lighting design: Jane Reisman. Costume design: Debra Stein. Production stage manager: Ronn Goswick.


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