The moment Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater Artistic Director Jadd Davis steps on stage as Frankie in “Forever Plaid” will likely be bittersweet.
On one hand, it marks his fourth time in a Summer Theatre production during his five seasons with the company, following roles in “Shrek,” “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “First Date.”
But on the other, the show marks the beginning of his final season with the theater, as he’s been accepted into the MFA in directing program at the University of Montana.
“Forever Plaid” opened Thursday and runs through July 1.
In “Forever Plaid,” directed by Tyler Krieg, the four members of the Plaids, Jinx (Jeff Rowden), Frankie (Davis), Sparky (Casey Raiha) and Smudge (Henry McNulty), are killed in a car crash on the way to their first big concert and return from the afterlife for another chance to put on a great performance.
The musical revue, with a book by Stuart Ross, premiered in 1989, was made into a movie in 2009 and features classic song like “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” “Heart and Soul,” “Lady of Spain,” “Rags to Riches” and “Moments to Remember.”
Davis, with previous experience in choirs and choral settings and a degree in music, felt he had the skills to pull off the role of Frankie, and Krieg agreed.
Davis wasn’t too familiar with “Forever Plaid” before researching the musical, only that it was a “sweet little show” about four guys who sing a variety of older songs.
“Ultimately, it’s a show about the family that you find and the magic you can make with the family that you find,” he said. “I’m having so much fun working on this show.”
Working with McNulty, Raiha and Rowden was a “joyful” experience for Davis, who’s excited to be around castmates with similarly extensive backgrounds in music.
“We all bring the same level of skill to the table and challenge each other and support each other appropriately,” he said.
The four have worked together in some capacity or another over the years, but never onstage as a quartet. Davis said he and Krieg had a few conversations about the importance of how their voices would blend together.
But any worries subsided when the group began rehearsals.
“Day one when we started singing together, it was like ‘Oh yay, we’re going to have a good thing’,” Davis said.
“Forever Plaid” kicks off Davis’ final season with the Summer Theatre, but it also marks the beginning of his return to his original career plan.
As a music education major at Eastern Washington University, Davis planned to become a band teacher. He played numerous instruments and sang all the time, but it wasn’t until sophomore year, when the music and theater departments decided to put on “Camelot,” that theater became part of his life.
“I said ‘I have no reason not to audition for this,’ ” Davis said. “I had no training as an actor. I didn’t even know if I could act or not so I was like ‘Screw it, I’ll audition.’ ”
Davis was cast as Sir Lancelot and vividly remembers the first time he sang Lancelot’s first big song “C’est Moi,” calling it a life-changing moment.
“I started singing ‘C’est moi, c’est moi, I’m forced to admit…’ and it’s supposed to be funny and the audience laughed and I was like ‘Oh my god, I’m doing this for the rest of my life,’ ” he said with a laugh. “And that was 20 years later and here I am.”
That I-have-no-reason-not-to attitude served Davis well when it came to applying to the MFA program.
He’s always wanted to be able to teach at the collegiate level and as adjunct positions open up around the area, he realized he could take the positions based on the schedule of the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre but didn’t have the qualifications.
Davis is familiar with the program at the University of Montana, having participated in their professionals weekend auditions for the last several years, and a Montana native, the opportunity to create in his home state was appealing.
“I was like ‘You know what? It’s a fully funded program. What do I have to lose in applying?’ ” he said. “I applied and I got in and then the big decision was ‘Crap! I’ve got a wife and two kids and a good job. I own a house. I’m finally a grown up. Am I going to go back to school?’ ”
But looking back on his time with CST, recalling his goal to save the theater after a budget shortfall caused its brief closure in 2013, Davis feels like he’s done what he came here to do.
“The theater’s in a good spot,” he said. “The culture of it’s in a really positive place right now, and I want to be able to further my own career and not overstay my welcome.”
Davis plans to commute to Coeur d’Alene from Montana one weekend a month to teach voice lessons, and after finishing school, he hopes to return to the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre and work as a freelance actor, director or musical director.
But for the time being, he’s focused on and looking forward to hitting the stage with McNulty, Raiha and Rowden in “Forever Plaid.”
“(Theater) really forces you to be emotionally raw in front of people and when you land with a group of people where you can be emotionally raw in front of them and feel completely safe and then also make really good music in the process, for a guy who has made my living as a musician and a theater person, I can’t believe my luck,” he said.