Forever Plaid – Upstairs of the Guardian’s House
Highgate Village in the summer is always lovely. Even if the weather isn’t good, it’s still welcoming, friendly and relaxing. Like Ambridge but without all the drama, Highgate Village with a trip to see a musical at Upstairs at The Gatehouse takes the experience to a new level, and when the musical in question is Forever plaid, well, you’ve pretty much reached nirvana.
It’s 2021 and in a north London performance hall, four impeccably-turned young men appear. They are Frankie (Cameron Burt), Sparky (Alexander Zane), Jinx (George Crawford) and Smudge (Christopher Short). As they adapt to their environment and to a particularly masked audience, they explain who they are and where they left off. They were a tight-fitting “group of guys” who in 1964 were on their way to their first big concert, when they were involved in a car crash, and all died. They linger in limbo until the power of harmony and the expanding holes in the ozone layer, in conjunction with the positions of the planets and all other astro-technical things, allows them to return. on Earth, to perform their last gig and hopefully win. a place in paradise. So that’s what they do, and so this 21st century audience is entitled to a string of hits from the 50s and 60s, culminating in the special – never played – song of Plaids.
You don’t need to read much further as this is a really brilliant 5 star rated show. If you want to know why, read on.
First, there is the story. Often times on shows like this the story is a paper-thin construct on which to hang a bunch of songs. While Forever plaid isn’t a Shakespearean epic, Stuart Ross wrote an intriguing tale that provides four well-developed characters with a believable (sort of) reason to be together and do what they’re doing. There is a lot of humor in the show and some real moments of laughter out loud – The “Ed Sullivan Show” and “Matilda” being highlights. And there is the music. When you think of the fifties and sixties, there are certain musical genres that come to mind, and often the close harmony stuff is overlooked, but there are some real classics, and this production fits into over thirty of them in about 80 minutes. My favorite was the wonderful mix of “Sixteen Tons” and “Chain Gang”, two work songs that work well together.
And that brings me to the performance itself. Under Director John Plews, Forever plaid is truly a fantastically staged spectacle. Music director Ian Oakley on piano and bassist Jess Martin provide music that never goes beyond the lyrics of those good old classics.
As I read the program on the way home, I remembered that I had just seen four very talented actors. It might seem like a strange thing to say, but they had played The Plaids so well, that my mind had fully accepted that I was watching a group of singers who had been together for years and knew each other intimately and not four possible strangers who were encountered. in a rehearsal room a few weeks ago. I have no idea what guys are in real life, but last night they were the epitome of American youth at their best. All four were superb but I’ll give Christopher Short a special mention. Short’s character, Smudge, is the klutz of the group. Often in the wrong place, making the wrong move, or wearing her clothes a little wrong, this is a character who could easily be a distraction for audiences. But Christopher carefully keeps Smudge’s antics under control so you know he’s done something, even if you’re not sitting watching him.
While writing this review I was listening to the original Off-Broadway cast recording and in my opinion last night’s performance was ahead of the album version. That kind of sums it all up. Forever plaid is just a perfect show. A great story, great songs and four very sympathetic and talented actors give you hope that the Plaids have realized their potential and are now performing in front of a much larger audience just outside the pearly doors.
Terry Eastham live review
When most of us think of the 1950s, we think of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hot Rods, Elvis, DA hairstyles, and the Teenage Rebellion. But there was a “flip side” to this era – the harmony, innocence and sincerity side of dreams – where American families gathered in front of the television to watch their favorite programs, like Ed Sullivan or the Perry Como Show. It was a time when vocal groups harmonized across the airwaves and jukeboxes of the United States.
Francis, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky loved to sing. They all met in high school around 1956 and, as Forever Plaid, dreamed of becoming like their idols – The Four Aces and The Crew Cuts. They rehearsed in the basement of the Smudge family’s plumbing supply business. This is where they became FOREVER PLAID.
Director – John Plews
Choreographer – Racky Plews
Music Director – Ian Oakley
Lighting Designer – Aaron Dootson
Sound Designer – Toby Burrow
Associate choreographer – Eddie Slattery
Casting – Pearson Casting
Producer – Katie Plews for Ovation
performed by arrangement with Music Theater International (Europe) Limited
Cast includes: Cameron Burt, George Crawford, Alex Zane
June 1 – 27, 2021