FOREVER PLAID

Reviewed By Jacqueline Gerber in The State Journal-Register, 1/23/99
reprinted with permission

"Tight harmonies guarantee ‘Plaid’ will always be in style”

Scene: Any American living room with a piano. Two people share the piano bench. As the person on the left repeats a four-chord motif, the person on the right plays the melody with one finger: What's the song?

If you answered "Heart and Soul," you've got what it takes to be Plaid.

"Forever Plaid," which opened Thursday at the New Salem Visitor Center Theatre, is Stuart Ross's entertaining appreciation of young men who evolved from the high school A-V crew to sophisticated four-part harmony.

Greg Floyd, Gus Gordon, Ed MacMurdo and Steve Williams star as the musical comrades whose squeaky clean lives end in 1964, just as the British Invasion begins. When we meet them, they're dressed in their ivory tuxedos, back from the here-after for one last show.

There are few better singers around than this first-rate group, and they proved it again and again in "Perfidia," "Shangri-La," "Crazy 'Bout You Baby" and the mellow "No, Not Much." Between numbers, the Plaids talk about their ailments, their lack of social life and, of course, their music.

Williams is Smudge, the ultra-nerd who doesn't know his left from right, but brings back memories of Tennessee Ernie Ford. Floyd, one of our most versatile young actors, gives the distracted Jinx a clear emotional center when he belts his solo in "Cry."

MacMurdo, as Sparky, whose voice is as smooth as melted Velveeta, and whose deadpan stare inspires lots of laughs, gets a Perry Como turn in "Catch a Falling Star."

Which brings us to Gus Gordon as Frankie. One of our most accomplished local actors, Gordon, the chief meteorologist on WICS-TV Channel 20, can pack a theater on his name recognition alone. While Gordon's performance at Friday's show was up to his usual high standards, he didn't seem quite as socially inept as the other three. I couldn't help wondering whether Frankie had ever really rolled a movie projector down to the biology room.

In an evening of many fine numbers, the Ed Sullivan medley brought the house down. While Floyd sang "Lady of Spain" to his own accordion accompaniment, wearing a black gaucho hat with white ball fringe, the other three performed a medley of acts including Senor Wences, Topo Gigio, a trained seal, a plate spinner, hoop-jumping animals, ending with MacMurdo eating fire.

When it's time to end, the boys turn up the nostalgia with "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," which brought the standing-room only crowd to its feet.

Groups that sing good songs with tight harmony, such at The Lettermen, The Four Freshmen, and in a somewhat different genre, the Manhattan Transfer, represent an oasis of taste in a youth culture that hasn't yet realized how satisfying this music is. But if today's young folks have discovered the jitterbug, it's just a short leap to the Plaid's be-bop arrangement of "Undecided."

Somehow, had the Plaids made it, I bet they wouldn't have trashed their hotel rooms, and they would have tipped the maid.

"Forever Plaid" is the first show by Gordon Productions. Gus Gordon directed. Music director Becky Garretson, whose spectacular straw hat deserved its own curtain call, accompanied along with Dick Garretson, whose jaunty berets kept changing.

The remaining performances, today at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m, are sold out. Early arrivals without tickets will be placed on a standby list for that night's performance. Tickets are $7.

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