In most musical revues, the plot comes second to the music. But in “Forever Plaid,” which opened Thursday at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, the plot explains the urgency behind the songs.
The plot of “Forever Plaid,” quickly introduced by an offstage announcer before the title quartet takes the stage, goes something like this:
One night in eastern Pennsylvania, the four members of the Plaids, Jinx (Jeff Rowden), Frankie (Jadd Davis), Sparky (Casey Raiha) and Smudge (Henry McNulty), are on their way to perform at the Airport Hilton cocktail bar, the Fusel-Lounge, when their car is hit by a bus full of students from Our Lady of Harrisburg on their way to a Beatles concert.
The quartet is killed while the school girls are unharmed.
“Forever Plaid” opens as the quartet returns from the afterlife. Though initially stunned that they’ve been gone for so long (Raiha asking an audience member what year it was, was the first of many sweet interactions with the audience), the charming, wholesome quartet quickly realizes that they have another chance to put on a big performance.
The production of “Forever Plaid,” which features a book by Stuart Ross, is directed by Tyler Krieg, assistant directed by Aimee Paxton and co-music directed by Davis and Jenny Twitchell.
All that time in the afterlife was clearly beneficial, as the quartet sounded as if they’d been singing together for years.
McNulty’s rich, deep voice balanced Rowden’s higher range, with Raiha’s and Davis’ voices seamlessly completing the picture like the final two pieces of a puzzle.
Each singer got plenty of chances to shine during solo moments too.
Rowden, hilarious as the shy Jinx, who could hardly sing a note without fidgeting with the bottom of his jacket, had his turn in the spotlight on “Cry,” and Davis shined with “Three Coins in the Fountain.”
McNulty captivated the audience’s attention during “Sixteen Tons/Chain Gang,” and Raiha’s voice was especially lovely during “Catch a Falling Star.”
But the best moments of the show were when the four played off each other, like “Perfidia” or “Caribbean Plaid,” which featured a lot of audience participation.
And in Act Two, the quartet hilariously re-created “The Ed Sullivan Show” in three minutes and 11 seconds.
While Rowden performed “Lady of Spain,” Davis, McNulty and Raiha ran around the stage performing a variety of tricks, including juggling, hula-hooping, puppetry, character imitations and – wait for it – fire-eating.
At one point, the group asked the audience if it was OK if they performed “Crazy ’Bout You Baby” the way they rehearsed it in the stockroom of Smudge’s family’s plumbing business.
Turns out, that meant using plungers as microphones, which made for an especially fun performance with great choreography from Joseph Lyons.
Throughout the show, the Plaids’ passion for music and performing was clear.
The quartet was truly touched when, near the end of the show, four green, plaid jackets were slowly lowered from the ceiling.
And they were happy to share the show with audience members, inviting them to sing along and bringing a member of the audience, Davis’ wife, Kasey, onstage to perform “Heart and Soul” on piano with Raiha’s Sparky.
The quartet also had a lot of fun interacting with their talented accompanists, Harmony Young on bass and Twitchell on piano.
Yes, “Forever Plaid” is a show about the music, but more importantly, it’s about the bond among the members of the Plaids.
They shared the joy, and nerves, that came with having a second chance to perform, and they had each other’s back throughout the show.
Frankie, Smudge and Sparky constantly reassured the nervous Jinx, with Sparky having tissues at the ready when Jinx got one of his nosebleeds, and the other three rallied around Frankie when he had trouble talking about their deaths.
And when it was time for the last song, Davis’ Frankie gave his bandmates, reluctant for the night to end, a pep talk during which he explained how vital each member was to the success of the song, “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.”
“We will modulate to the stars,” he said.
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