Photograph by Jana Marcus
Kitsch and Caboodle : Calypso fever strikes in 'Forever Plaid,' playing at Cabrillo Stage through July 27.
Cabrillo Stage's 'Forever Plaid' is corny and uneven--and ultimately entertaining.
By Matthew Craggs
Like the pattern it celebrates, Forever Plaid can be a little obnoxious, but you have to admire anyone who can pull it off. Basically amounting to a musical revue, the story concerns four young musicians who are killed before they can make it big. In a freak (and unexplained) turn of events, the group returns from the dead after 40 years for one last shot at the performance of a lifetime. Packed with boy-band music from the 1950s, the show strings together hit after hit sure to please anyone looking for a light summer trip to the theater.
The first Cabrillo Stage production of the summer, Forever Plaid succeeds when it keeps things simple. A four-man show, with a two-piece band onstage, Plaid is the type of production that can go south real quick if not filled with competent actors who understand the material. Luckily, that's not the case here. Outstanding among the actors is Scott Kowaleski, who plays the bespectacled Smudge. Ironically, with a show that screams the joys of plaid, it is subtlety that works best, and Kowaleski keeps his character appropriately subdued. As a counter there is Sparky, played by Billy James Robinson, who flirts with audience members and makes sure every movement is noticed. A mix of Rick Moranis and John Lovitz, Max Bennett-Parker's role is oddly charming because of his character's misplaced confidence in himself. Even in his name we see that Frankie (short for Francis) is not as cool as he hopes to appear.
Through no fault of his own, Tad Kistner's performance as Jinx is, well, jinxed. The script keeps him a cowering, nose-bleeding scaredy-cat for the first half of the show. It's actually a credit to Kistner that the moment he comes out of his shell is rewarding and not just inevitable.
Sprinkled between the songs are bits of exposition and dialogue that serve as a plot, but for the most part, the tunes the Plaids sing speak for the show. You do have to wonder why the songs don't say more. The band, having died in 1964, is steeped in the music of the 1950s and early 1960s--music that was laced with subtext, double entendres and provocative ideas. Instead we get a naive, albeit fun, playlist that doesn't capitalize on the chance to comment on the predicament of the doomed souls onstage. Neither does the script. At one point Smudge examines the group's microphone to find the cord is severed and in an instant his silent reaction asks, "What's the point? Who are we performing for? And does any of this matter?" Unfortunately, immediately after this understated but effective moment, the characters verbally breach the subject in a crude manner that basically amounts to "dying sucks."
This isn't to say the Plaids don't put on one hell of a good show. They do. The performance has great music, some truly entertaining sight gags and mild slapstick. The Plaids' tribute to Ed Sullivan is hilarious, even if younger generations may only get 40 percent of the jokes pertaining to the "really big shoe." If Ed Sullivan is the high point of the show, the low point is none other than the bane of American theater: audience participation.When the cards are cut, Forever Plaid is the type of show that anyone in your family will enjoy because it embraces the nonoffensive credo of the 1950s performance--to entertain for the sake of entertainment. The music may be nostalgic for some and retro for others, but one thing is certain: Cabrillo Stage looks good in Plaid.
FOREVER PLAID runs through July 27 (Wednesday-Saturday 8pm, Saturday-Sunday 3pm, no show July 4) at the Erica Schilling Forum at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Tickets are $20-$26; 831.479.6429 or www.cabrillostage.com
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