What is it about the musical Forever Plaid that keeps people returning to see it time and again?
To twist a political phrase: "It's the music, stupid."
And it couldn't be better than it is with six veteran performers at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre through July 27 — singer/actors Darrel Blackburn, Steven Flaa, Jonathan Harrison and Yurief Rodriguez and on-stage musicians Irving Goldberg and Gary Wyatt.
These fellows go together like green Jell-O and miniature marshmallows.
Plaid, of course, is the story of a group of four young men driving to what could be their breakthrough singing performance at a local lounge in 1959 when they are hit by a bus filled with Catholic high school girls on their way to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Like the Beatles, the girls survive and presumably go on to terrific lives, while the men, like their close harmony singing style, are gone with the crash, the heavily symbolic setup for the show.
By a strange quirk in the solar system, though, the men are caught between heaven and earth and are allowed to come back in 2008 to do the show they were supposed to do in 1959.
And herein lies the ubiquitous appeal of the show: those around in 1959 savor the songs (and probably know every word) and those who came later love the zany comedy that accompanies them.
That's why it's important to cast players who are not only fantastic singers, but also are terrific comics — and that's what the Show Palace has done with four Actors Equity Association singers and two great musicians.
In fact, three of the four singers have done the show before — Flaa in 10 productions, Harrison in five — and the experience they bring to the stage is one reason we can overlook the fact that they are a little, um, mature to be fresh out of high school, as the Plaids supposedly are.
(Hey — maybe people age a tad in the hereafter, who knows for sure?)
The characters are familiar and timeless: the smooth crooner Frankie (Harrison), who fights his asthma; the comical Sparky (Flaa), who fights his tooth retainer; the shy, unsure Jinx (Rodriguez) and his bothersome nosebleed; and the nervous Smudge (Blackburn), who chug-a-lugs Milk of Magnesia to calm his stomach.
These four sing songs like No, Not Much; Love Is a Many Splendored Thing and Three Coins in the Fountain as though they were there when the melodies were created, complete with exaggerated precision hand and head movements, a la 1950s. They give novelty tunes like 16 Tons and Chain Gang the melodramatic treatment they deserve and clown it up on zany stuff like Matilda and Papa Loves Mambo.
It's a cute shtick, though we sometimes wish they'd tone it down, as when Jinx does Cry with a few too many gestures and without the essential Johnnie Ray wail. Why not let him show his singing chops and do it close to the original, as Smudge does the Tony Bennett classic Rags to Riches?
That said, this production of Forever Plaid does the show justice, making its 90-minute duration seem as brief as the lives of the Plaids themselves.