On Theater: Nostalgia abounds in Playhouse's 'Plaid'

The musical "Forever Plaid," now stirring nostalgia at the Costa Mesa Playhouse has been around for a while — with two previous productions in Costa Mesa alone — but it's still well worth a visit, especially if those "moments to remember" were part of your own coming of age.

All-male, four-part harmony groups — like the Four Lads, the Four Aces and the Four Freshmen — ruled the pop charts back in the early 1950s, before Elvis and the Beatles arrived to dominate the musical scene. Creator Stewart Ross resurrected that period with his imaginary quartet, the Plaids, whose career was wiped out by a traffic accident in 1964 before they could play their first concert.

Forty-seven years later, they're reunited by a quirk in the space-time continuum, or some such reasoning, and given the chance to play that landmark concert — and cheer the grandparents in the audience.

At the local playhouse, director Stephen Hulsey is participating in his 17th version of "Forever Plaid," and has staged the show using original Las Vegas choreography. Hulsey, who doubles as music director on piano, has assembled a splendid foursome whose members spend as much time on their goofball characters as they do on their harmonizing.

Chronologically, the Plaids would be in their late 60s, but here they're freeze-dried teenagers with all the awkward youthful innocence they took to their graves. And they're still a harmonic convergence.

The quartet — Jason Holland, Jonathan Schoenherz, Diego Lee and Shawn Summerer — combine their winning voices with a series of comical antics that reach their peak during a full-speed depiction of the old "The Ed Sullivan Show."

As Summerer croons "Lady of Spain," the other three rush on and off with all the old variety gimmicks (Topo Gigio, the "s'all right" box, etc.). It's exhausting, but highly entertaining.

As for the early '50s standards, they are present in abundance. The repertoire includes "Three Coins in the Fountain," "No, Not Much," "Perfidia," "Catch a Falling Star," "Rags to Riches" and the grand finale, "Love is a Many Splendored Thing." But what they do to Johnny Ray's signature song would make the late crooner "Cry."

The audience gets its licks in as well. Participation is invited during a Caribbean spoof that includes Harry Belafonte's extended "Matilda" number. And one lucky playgoer will get a chance to join the Plaids on "Heart and Soul" and leave with some souvenirs.

Steve Endicott's splashy setting is ideal for the show's concept and Tiffany McQuay's costumes work splendidly, along with John McQuay's sound designs. Mark Davidson pitches in on bass as the only other member of Hulsey's instrumental combo.

You don't have to be seasoned enough to remember the early '50s to enjoy "Forever Plaid," but it certainly helps. The Costa Mesa Playhouse has done a nifty job recreating those moments to remember.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Forever Plaid"

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 8 (no performance Easter Sunday)

Cost: $16 to $23

Call: (949) 650-5269

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