'Forever Plaid' at the Jaeb? Enough already

Forever Plaid again?

The first time around, in 1993, this homage to '50s guy groups like the Four Lads, the Hi-Los and the Four Freshmen was great fun, a trip down memory lane in lush, four-part harmony.

But Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center keeps going back to the well, and now the show is being produced for the sixth time in 15 years at the Jaeb Theater. Why is it being brought back when there is so much great theater that hasn't been done here?

Exhibit A: Stephen Sondheim, the greatest living composer-lyricist in American musical theater. Occasionally, tours of Sondheim shows like Sweeney Todd or Into the Woods have made their way to the Tampa Bay area market, but local productions of his musicals are few and far between.

Side by Side by Sondheim, a revue, is the sole Sondheim show to have been produced by American Stage, the Asolo Theatre and Stageworks, all in the 1980s. There was a production of his chamber musical Assassins by the now-defunct Tampa Players in 1994. Otherwise, it has been left to community theaters and high school and university companies to bring Sondheim's work to the area.

It is amazing, and a little embarrassing, that TBPAC, with all its resources and savvy, has never staged a Sondheim in the Jaeb. A Little Night Music marks its 35th anniversary this year, and it could work well in that intimate space. Ditto for other smaller-scaled Sondheim musicals Anyone Can Whistle, Merrily We Roll Along and Passion.

Sure, Sondheim can be challenging, and it is not a sure-fire hit at the box office, but TBPAC has an obligation to take some artistic risks to balance its lineup of Broadway money spinners like Jersey Boys, Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera (itself back for the fifth time this fall).

But instead, the Jaeb has played to the lowest common denominator with a string of generic cabaret shows (The Fabulous Fifties, Hollywood Nights, A Rockin' Christmas and Holiday Cabaret) or formulaic shlock (Shear Madness, Menopause: The Musical and Hats!).

It's as if TBPAC is trying to appeal to those who never go to the theater.

The Jaeb would be ideal for interesting entertainment that has never gotten top-level productions here, from revivals of neglected musicals (the Rodgers and Hart catalog is worth a look) to new work. Off Broadway is teeming with troupes that would love to have a regional partner like TBPAC. I think, for example, that the Civilians' inventive cabaret show Gone Missing, a hit in New York and London, would find a good audience here, too.

But instead, we're getting Forever Plaid — again.

John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com.

Forever Plaid

The show opens Friday and runs through Aug. 17 at the Jaeb Theater of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $31.50. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free
1-800-955-1045;
tbpac.org.

'Forever Plaid' at the Jaeb? Enough already 07/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 5:42pm]

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