We’re talking grilled cheese sandwich on white bread, dipped in white cheddar cheese fondue, with a slice of cheesecake for dessert.
The Pittsburgh CLO production, the very first show performed at The Greer Cabaret Theater, where it has returned to kick off its 15th anniversary season, is your mother’s musical theater, which is exactly what it intends to be.
Directed and choreographed by Guy Stroman, Forever Plaid tells the tale of Frankie (Quinn Patrick Shannon), Jinx (Brandon Lambert), Smudge (Wood Van Meter), and Sparky (Zander Lyons), an all-male singing group killed in a collision with a busload of Catholic school girls on their way to see the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. The girls survive; the boys aren’t so fortunate. But by the grace of God — or whatever weird purgatory they end up in — The Plaids are granted the opportunity to perform the show-that-never-was, in front of the fine folks of Pittsburgh.
(Those fine folks, by the way, were at least twice the age of the cast on the night I attended. If, like me, you’ve never actually seen The Ed Sullivan Show, there will be a few things that go over your head.)
The boys perform no less than 30 songs, including classics like “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby,” with toilet plungers taking the place of mics (because that’s how they did it in rehearsals and it helps with stage fright, ya know?). And, what's likely the all-time whitest rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang," with a spoon banging on a glass ketchup (Heinz, natch) bottle creating the infamous shovels-on-rocks sound effects.
There’s not a bad singer in the bunch, and the music — performed live on stage by pianist Catie Brown and a stand-up bassist (alternating between Jeffrey Mangone, Sr. and George Elliot) — is delightful, especially since Brown gets to throw around some pretty terrific acting chops of her own.
If any of the actors screwed up during the evening, you’d be hard-pressed to notice. It’s not that the actors are perfect — don’t get me wrong, they’re all talented, and each performs especially well during their solos — but the characters themselves are flawed and easily subjected to screw-ups. Jinx’s nose keeps bleeding, Frankie hyperventilates. These weren’t the stars of the high school football team when they were alive. They were the geeks, the boys still resisting the temptations of the new-fangled rock ‘n’ roll. Chemistry between the actors often fell flat, but improved as the show progressed. (This run continues through the end of December, so I suspect the chemistry between the actors will improve with each performance.)
If you’re looking for a theater experience with substance, it’s best to look elsewhere. But if you want a vanilla, feel-good performance with lots of old-fashioned tunes and light-hearted chuckles, you’ll be sure to eat this cheesy sucker up and ask for seconds.