On Theater: First 'Forever,' now the sequel

When a new performance concept succeeds impressively enough, invariably a sequel (or two) is demanded — a concept illustrated by such projects as "Greater Tuna," "Nunsense" and "The Marvelous Wonderettes."

To that list — and vaulting to the top of it — now must be added "Forever Plaid," the celebration of pre-rock '50s harmonic music beautifully conceived and created by Stuart Ross. Its holiday-themed sequel "Plaid Tidings" currently is bringing audiences to their feet at the Laguna Playhouse.

The back story is the same — a singing quartet of young men seeking their big break were wiped out in 1964 in a crash with a bus carrying teenage girls en route to catch the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The lads return in the present era to offer that one concert they were denied in life.

Apparently, Providence also decreed that they should play a Christmas gig as well, so here they are again, joyously spreading holiday cheer and riotous humor, all in perfect harmony. And these Plaids are every bit as richly rewarding as the first four, even retaining some of the latter group's best physical comedy.

At the playhouse, the combo includes David Brannen (Sparky), Scott Dreier (Smudge), Ciaran McCarthy (Jinx) and William Martinez (Frankie), all of them terrific vocalists and goofballs, under the crisp and imaginative direction of creator Ross. They're splendidly backed by musical director and pianist Gerald Sternbach and bassist Ernie Nunez.

As they make their way back to the stage and get their performing feet wet, the Plaids team up for some typical mid-'50s fare — "Stranger in Paradise," "Sh-Boom," "Kiss of Fire." But soon they're caught up in the spirit of the season and offer some traditional Christmas songs, embellished by their own personal touch.

One of their better antics in the original was bringing a lady from the audience onstage to play piano on "Heart and Soul." The same gimmick is employed in the latest version, only this time she's ringing bells on cue as the other dingalings present "Joy to the World."

Using the audience as an extended stage, the Plaids resurrect Harry Belafonte's classic "Matilda" audience-participation number — changing the lyrics to "Take my money and go Christmas shopping."

Probably the highlight of the original "Forever Plaid" was the foursome's fast-forward rendition of "The Ed Sullivan Show." That number is repeated in the current version to long and loud applause as the old program's various aspects (Jose Jimenez, Topo Gigio, etc.) are rushed on and off stage in blink-and-you'll-miss-it fashion. No Christmas theme here, but it's downright hilarious.

Members of the audience are more than willing to go along with the gags, with many decked out in plaid clothing or scarves. One couple, on opening night, even went so far as to show up wearing matching plaid pajamas.

"Plaid Tidings" is the ultimate theatrical holiday treat, particularly if your musical tastes date back to the mid-1950s. It's a harmonic convergence packed with songs, gags and showmanship at the Laguna Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Plaid Tidings"

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays until Dec. 23, with special performances at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 and 2 p.m. Dec. 13

Cost: $40 to $70

Information: (949) 497-2787 or http://www.lagunaplayhouse.com

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