Great Lakes Theater’s brand equity sorely missing from doo-wop driven ‘Forever Plaid’
By Bob Abelman
A lightweight jukebox musical is the last thing one would expect from the same theater company that just dared to double-cast a female in the title role of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” And jukebox musicals don’t regularly appear on the resume of the director who recently staged the story of axe wielding double-murderess Lizzie Borden.
But currently on the Great Lakes Theater stage under Victoria Bussert’s direction is the corny and contrived “Forever Plaid,” sans the brand equity that typically accompanies productions by Cleveland’s classic company and without the ingenuity typical of its top-tier director.
Written and staged off-Broadway in 1989 by one-hit-wonder Stuart Ross, the show introduces us to Frankie, Jinx, Sparky and Smudge. The boys are members of the doo-wop group “The Plaids” who, in 1964 and not long out of high school, were killed in a car accident on the way to their first professional gig at an airport lounge.
They appear before us – resurrected in matching dinner jackets and cummerbunds by mysterious cosmic forces – to perform the show they never got to do and, hopefully, hit the elusive perfect harmony.
The boys sing renditions of 28 Top-40 tunes from the 1950s, including Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “Three Coins in the Fountain” and Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ “Rags to Riches,” which are set to era-specific synchronized dance moves courtesy of choreographer Gregory Daniels. They are accompanied on stage, just to the left of Jeff Herrmann’s glittery lounge-show set piece, by Matthew Webb on piano and Timothy Powell on bass.
In true jukebox musical fashion, the boys provide benign banter between songs that supplies the flimsy narrative that holds this production together and engage in gimmicky antics – such as an abbreviated version of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a story about a close encounter with Perry Como, and the dragging of audience members on stage – to offer a bit of variety to what is essentially a 97-minute musical revue.
Played with immense charm by Mack Shirilla, Mickey Patrick Ryan, Andrew Kotzen and James Penca, the boys also lack the spontaneity that was evident, according to posted reviews, in their performances this past July and September at Great Lakes’ sister theaters in Lake Tahoe and Idaho, respectively. This pre-fabricated production is also missing one musician, a percussionist, which doesn’t help matters.
Fortunately, the singing by these Baldwin Wallace University trained performers is spot-on and a pleasure to listen to. And the elusive perfect harmony is nailed in the final song, Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fain’s “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”
“Forever Plaid” is clearly targeted at audiences old enough to have first experienced its song list at 45 rpm on vinyl. On the Wednesday matinee of my attendance, they were well represented by members of the Valley View Community Center, Federated Church Seniors, O’Neill Healthcare North Olmsted, Eastlake Senior Center, and Willowick Senior Center.
In addition to providing a joyful, unsolicited and somewhat precarious fifth part to every songs’ four-part harmony, they offered a slow but sincere standing ovation at the end of the production.
Should you come to this Great Lakes Theater production of “Forever Plaid,” it is highly recommended that you bring a septuagenarian as your plus-one. CV
WHERE: The Hanna Theatre, 14th St. and Euclid Ave., Cleveland
WHEN: Through May 21
TICKETS & INFO: $13 – $80, call 216-241-6000 or visit to greatlakestheater.org
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman.3.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on May 11, 2017.
Lead image: From left, Mickey Patrick Ryan, Andrew Kotzen, Mack Shirilla and James Penca. Photo | Roger Mastroianni