Crowd goes mad for 'Forever Plaid'OKOBOJI, IOWA — Got talent? The cast of “Forever Plaid,” performing through Sunday at Okoboji Summer Theatre (OST), is dripping with it.
By: Jane Turpin Moore, Worthington Daily Globe
OKOBOJI, IOWA — Got talent?
The cast of “Forever Plaid,” performing through Sunday at Okoboji Summer Theatre (OST), is dripping with it.
They sing, they dance, they act, they joke — heck, they even juggle — and they make it all look effortless, with nary a slicked lock falling out of place.
OST’s version of “Forever Plaid” is a terrific display of talent on multiple levels, from the gifted quartet of four young men who headline the musical to the lighting designer who delights the eye with shifting colors and moods to the skillful jazz trio to the director/choreographer who makes every tiny detail count.
Going into the show, this reviewer was admittedly a bit skeptical that four twenty-something lads — three of whom are still college students — could deliver the late-’50s-era feel required of “Forever Plaid,” which premiered off-Broadway in May 1990 and has since become a ubiquitous musical at theaters of all kinds internationally.
But the players fully deserved the standing ovation the Tuesday night, full-house crowd submitted, after pouring heart and soul into a fresh, entertaining presentation and demonstrating that each of them has talent to burn.
“If it’s Tuesday, there must be a thunderstorm at the Okoboji Summer Theater,” greeted OST artistic director Beth Leonard, after a rain-soaked audience had made its way to the seats. Despite a 15-minute, weather-related late start, the actors were cool as cucumbers when taking the stage.
“Forever Plaid” is essentially a 90-minute revue of ’50s music popularized by four-part guy groups, based on the premise that this promising quartet died in February 1964 en route to their biggest gig after colliding with a school bus filled with teenage Catholic girls heading to see the Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The musical begins as the “Forever Plaid” group gets a brief second chance to return to earth and perform their last show.
Believable as these young actors were, nobody could seriously buy the shtick that these guys were hindered in achieving success in life due to lisps, nosebleeds, ulcers, asthma or general nerdiness, but these gags were played as comic relief humor and done so utterly well that the audience was able to thoroughly enjoy the joke.
Search, if you like, for a false note, discordant harmony or missed dance step — these young men are masters of their material, and any effort to find notable imperfection will likely be in vain.
At intermission, a brief visit with guest director/choreographer Bernard Monroe, an award-winner in his field, revealed he’d had only 10 days to work with the cast in assembling the show — and the roles were pre-cast by Stephens College staff, so he arrived at Okoboji with no firsthand knowledge of his players’ abilities.
“I’m very pleased with them,” offered Monroe, whose broad smile highlighted his words. “They’re doing a terrific job.”
The “Forever Plaid” quartet is comprised of Stephens College graduate Kyle Groff, an OST veteran now based in New York, along with three current Stephens College students: Charles Evans of San Diego, Calif., Michael Richardson of St. Louis, Mo., and Alex Herrera of Kansas City, Mo.
Groff, playing the nerdy “Smudge,” elicits chortles of laughter from the audience with a mere raised eyebrow or flicker of a crooked smile, yet on his featured solo “Sixteen Tons” he also reveals an amazing vocal range and smooth-as-silk tonality.
As “Sparky,” Richardson’s mega-watt smile rarely dims even as he portrays a lisping doofus; when he goes to the piano to accompany “Heart and Soul,” he subtly reveals himself to be a classically trained and accomplished pianist — just chalk up another major skill to his considerable list of talents.
Tenors Evans and Herrera add charm, poise and lovely voices to the mix as the foursome works its way through crowd-pleasers such as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Crazy ‘Bout Ya, Baby,” “Catch a Falling Star” and “Caribbean Plaid.”
In truth, it wouldn’t matter if this quartet of guys was doing a Bee Gees or Irving Berlin revue — their showmanship and natural ability to entertain would make any show they’re in worth seeing.
Kudos also go to costume designer Jennifer Cole, lighting designer Joe Hodge, and musicians Tom Andes, Sean Murphy and Greg Forney.
Pianist Andes, whose keyboard finesse is a pleasure to witness, earned a degree in jazz piano performance from the Berkley College of Music. Additionally, Andes is a giant of a man with great stage presence and a subtly displayed sense of humor.
“Forever Plaid” runs at OST through Sunday. A word of advice: Call ahead for tickets to avoid being disappointed by a sell-out of this popular and worthy show.