Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Review: 'Forever Plaid' at Stage West hits the spot

SPRING HILL — To hear them sing, you'd think that Ryan Bintz, Jeff Germann, Jason Yungmann and Madison Byers have been doing close harmony on tunes from the 1950s and 1960s all their lives. They blend, they soar, they have fun.

But they've been together mere weeks — only three, in the case of Byers, a replacement for a truant original cast member — preparing to perform one truly enjoyable musical, Forever Plaid.

The show will run through Sunday at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill.

It's the charming tale set in 1964 about a group of, well, nerds, who practiced the songs made famous by pop groups such as the Crew-Cuts, the Four Lads, the Four Freshmen in the basement of one member's home, using long-handled toilet plungers as pretend microphones.

They've just about perfected their set, paid their dues singing at weddings, anniversaries, grocery store grand openings, and family reunions, and have landed their first "real" gig at the Airport Hilton cocktail bar, the Fusel Lounge.

But even as their kind of singing is just about to be overtaken by the British Invasion of 1964, their car was broad-sided by a school bus full of Catholic girls on their way to see the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. The girls were fine, but the guys were all killed. Now, through some miracle, they've been allowed to come back to Earth one more time to give the show they were supposed to give at the Fusel Lounge.

After all, they are Plaids forever, Plaids being their chosen stage name.

Some productions of this show (and they are legion) designate each character according to voice, but director Leanne Germann and music director Carol Ballard assigned songs according to performer, which works out fine.

Germann plays Sparky, the group cut-up and usually the tenor, but Germann shines doing the deep-bass Tennessee Ernie Ford classic, Sixteen Tons, while Yungmann as Smudge, the traditional bass, soars in Love Is a Many Splendored Thing and Catch a Falling Star.

Ryan Bintz as Frankie (he's really "Francis," but doesn't like that so changed it), is delightful in many songs, including Rags to Riches, and an inspiration as he dramatically describes the perfect chord done in perfect harmony to show the guys that they actually did achieve their singing goal while on Earth before. Byers shows many talents as Jinx, playing piano and singing Heart and Soul, and doing a sweet falsetto to start the Jamaican medley.

Still, the Plaids may be coolest when they do those sweet harmonies and choreographer Jessica Virginia's neat coordinated hand and foot moves, a la the Temptations. Never silly, but often funny, they do a 3 minute 11 second version of Sullivan with all the characters familiar to anyone who watched it during its long run.

The onstage combo of Ballard on piano, Lauren Ballard on bass and Rick Foti on drums is just right for this quartet. Misty Hornsby and Hailey Schubert's lighting designs help create the magic of those days, as do Germann's costumes.

In truth, the magic moments in this 90-minute, plus intermission, show are too numerous to count, especially for those who know every word to every song and for whom every song brings back a memory. Of course, newbies will like it, too.

Oops, forgot — newbies wasn't a word in 1964.

Make that "first-timers."

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