Rhode Island summer stock favorite Theatre by the Sea opens its 2012 season on a high note with the nostalgic musical comedy Forever Plaid.
The Plaids - Frankie (Mike Backes), Sparky (Adolpho Blaire), Smudge (Max Pallman) and Jinx (Jeffrey Scott Stevens) - are an aspiring vocal group. In 1964, on the very night of their first major gig, the quartet meets an untimely end following an automobile accident. Now in 2012, The Plaids escape a 48-year limbo with the opportunity to posthumously perform the show they missed and to finally fulfill their long-deferred dreams.
Matunuck's talented Plaids dazzle the audience with their impeccable harmonies and charm with their delightfully awkward choreography. Their unsubtle attempts at subtlety, both during transitions and as they correct onstage missteps and flubs, are uproariously funny and endearing all at once. This underdog quartet may not be the smoothest group, but they have heart and lots of it.
Backes, Blaire, Pallman and Stevens are first-rate performers, amazing vocalists blessed with spot-on comic timing and boundless energy. They work seamlessly together to make The Plaids jell as a musical foursome, yet they capture distinct traits and quirks to make each character stand out as an individual in the group.
The Plaids are joined on stage by consistently cool bassist Brian Grochowski and John C. Brown, the production's musical director and pianist, who - even with The Plaids and their antics firmly in the spotlight - steals the show in exceedingly witty moments all his own.
Not content to simply amuse the crowd, The Plaids invite audience interaction. TBTS patrons help stabilize scenery, play instruments and - as in the case of this BWW reviewer - are ushered onto the stage for an improvised moment in the spotlight.
Forever Plaid features many favorite pop hits of the 1950s and 60s, including "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Sixteen Tons," "Day-O" and "Heart and Soul." All of the songs are given a distinctive, often hilarious "Plaid" take, from the Beatles' "She Loves You" to popular Calypso tunes. The Plaids bring down the house with their priceless, three-minute recreation of the entire Ed Sullivan Show, a masterful comic feat performed with nonstop enthusiasm and energy.
For all the music and the laughter, The Plaids' inevitable departure gives the production added moments of poignancy. In many ways, The Plaids stand in for any group with talent and a dream; though their names may never be in lights, they still find joy in the art of making music together.
Forever Plaid opens the 79th season at Theatre by the Sea. Performances run through June 17, 2012, and ticket prices range from $39-54 (rush tickets and group discounts are available). Tickets can be purchased online at www.theatrebythesea.com, by phone (401) 782-TKTS (8587), or at the TBTS box office, 364 Cards Pond Road, Matunuck, RI.
Pictured: (from left) Max Pallman, Mike Backes, Adolpho Blaire and Jeffrey Scott Stevens star as "The Plaids" in Forever Plaid at Theatre by the Sea. Photo by Mark Turek.