For the final production of its 20th anniversary season, Bristol Riverside Theater is, for the first time in its history, repeating a show it has already done. The musical “Forever Plaid,” first produced by BRT six years ago, was such a success that audiences have been asking over and over to see it again. And judging from the reaction of the opening-night audience, history is about to repeat itself.
“Forever Plaid,” written by Stuart Ross, is based on an unusual premise. The Plaids, a young Doo Wop quartet, were on their way to pick up custom-made plaid tuxedos for “their first big gig,” when their car was struck by a busload of teenagers off to see the Beatles make their American television debut. The teenagers were unhurt but all four members of the Plaids were killed. Now thanks to the “power of harmony and the expanding holes in the ozone layer, in conjunction with the position of the planets,” they have come back to earth and are preparing to present the concert they never gave.
Rehearsing is problematic as they have been dead these many years, and as the quartet strives to get back into its routine, the audience is treated to a well-orchestrated conjunction of near misses. Some are musical, some visual. The quartet aims to look elegant, and much business revolves around the bass’ tendency to get things slightly wrong —- wearing his plaid sash on the left when everyone else’s is on the right, holding his microphone in the wrong hand.
The four singers, Billy Clark Taylor, Michael Susko, Christopher Zelno, and Richard Rowan, are accompanied by a pianist, Benjamin VanDiepen, and a bass player, Bob Gargiullo. Rowan and Zelno were in the first BRT “Forever Plaid” production, and Susko has appeared in other BRT shows. The four form a very tight unit, as they sing (and dance) their way through some 20 songs. Many of the songs, which include such classics as “Gotta Be This or That” and “Lady of Spain,” will be familiar to many in the audience. Each song is choreographed, with highly stylized (and often hilarious) versions of Doo Wop’s traditional moves. The detachable microphones play a large and amusing part in many of the routines, replaced in one of the funniest numbers by four tall plumber’s friends.
The current production has a new set (by A. Nelson Ruger, who also designed the lighting) and new choreography (by Gregory Daniels). In what seems to be standard procedure for BRT, the set is striking without giving the impression that it must have cost a small fortune. Three large, sparkling, crescent-shaped objects dominate the stage and remind the audience that for many years now home for these men has been the sky. Their clothes play a role, too, and if a show about four dead guys can be said to have a happy ending, this one does — when the four discover and don the plaid tuxedos they had been on their way to pick up at the time of the accident.
Edward Keith Baker, BRT’s artistic director, serves as both director and musical director for this production. Sound design is by Daniel A. Little.
“Forever Plaid” doesn’t dwell on the fact that the quartet was killed by teenagers on their way to one of the landmark events of the British invasion, which was what killed Doo Wop. The music seems deftly done; a composer in the audience was heard to remark on its clever efficiency, and how it managed to flirt with going over the top without ever succumbing. The charm of the singers and the freshness of the presentation are likely to mean that even those with no particular interest in Doo Wop will enjoy “Forever Plaid.”
“Forever Plaid,” through Sunday, May 13, Bristol Riverside Theater, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, . Musical by Stuart Ross. $39 to $42. 215-785-0100.