By Andrea Johnson
For my husband’s birthday weekend, we ventured down to Utah’s Dixie and had the pleasure of enjoying Plaid Tidings at Brigham’s Playhouse in Washington, Utah. Brigham’s Playhouse is a newer company (established in 2013) with an old-fashioned feel. We arrived at the theater (unfortunately a little late due to user error), and were instantly impressed with the wooden porch, the Western façade, and the beautiful proscenium in the theater itself. As we were tardy, we were instantly swept into the show and the introduction of “The Plaids.”
I, myself, am apparently a “Plaid virgin,” as I have not yet seen either Forever Plaid (the original work) or Plaid Tidings (the special holiday edition), and was a little worried that I would be lacking context. Knowing the basic premise helped, but otherwise the show stands on its own. The up-tempo “Recap” attempts to bring the audience up to speed, but seemed more enjoyable to those who had seen Forever Plaid. The Plaids are a standard harmony group, tragically killed before their first “real” gig, who are granted one last performance on Earth to fulfill their dream in Forever Plaid. In their return in Plaid Tidings, the well-intentioned fledgling performers are brought back to do a Christmas special, but not before they stumble through clues trying to figure out why they are back on Earth. Their musings take them through the hard things of living, including painful memories and physical ailments, but always come back to the music, and finally, to the joy of the holiday season.
By their very nature, the Plaids are an ensemble, and the strength of the piece relies on the even treatment of their individual roles. Director Mimi Knell creates a great ensemble work, balancing the powerful characters, the range of emotions, and the often non-existent fourth wall. The staging is fun and inventive. The theater is intimate, with the actors mere feet away from the front row, and audience interaction expected. I was a little taken aback with how quickly and loudly the audience interacted with the actors; it seemed almost too much. Not knowing the culture of the theater, perhaps this is accepted, but I did feel some discomfort with some of the spontaneous audience participation. This is not a knock on the performance at all. The actors take the interruptions in stride, ignoring or appropriately acknowledging the unbidden interjections from the audience. This may just be audience exuberance, as the audience is frequently asked to interact, and this interaction creates some of the most delightful moments of the show. It is a fine line. Pro Tip: Avoid the aisles and the front row if you are a shrinking violet.
The Plaids are played expertly by Greg Knell (Frankie), Nathan Benner (Jinx), Doug Knapp (Smudge), and Brant Wadsworth (Sparky). The show is sung in harmony throughout. Devotees of barbershop will enjoy this show immensely. Not going to lie, I was gushingly looking forward to hearing men singing; it is probably my favorite sound after baby giggles. The Plaids do not disappoint. The gags, the humor, and the interplay between the cast members are just right. Each actor has a solo moment on stage, and they are each as poignant as the last. There are many references to the 50s, and if you are at all a Millennial or close to that age group, you may want to brush up on your 50s trivia, or you will miss out on some of the references. I would also suggest a YouTube-fest of Ed Sullivan, or the 3-minute tribute will leave you out of the best jokes.
Special mention to the musicians, pianist, Tami Creamer, and bassist, Dave Wayt, who add a perfect note of being invisible and notable at the same time. Their interactions with the Plaids are always delightful. I observed a cute interaction between Creamer and a young theater goer after the show. Creamer asked, “What was your favorite part?” The child answered, “When you left.” (Part of the plot.) They laughed about that, and Creamer admitted, “It is my favorite part, too.” I was trying to suppress an outright guffaw for fear of being outed as the busy-body I was. My musical husband had nothing but sincere compliments for all the music. It was superb.
Brigham’s Playhouse is a self-proclaimed “dessert theater” and they did not disappoint. I am not kidding when I say, “a side of dessert.” Offerings included cookies, ice cream, specialty root beer (and, of course, root beer float), hot cider, and gourmet popcorn. The featured dessert is a “Plaidtastic” Perfectly Plaid ice cream pie, which was our dessert for the evening. My comment to my husband was, “Now that is how you do concessions!”
Honestly, I had to ask if the theater was semi-professional or professional at the end of Plaid Tidings. I was informed that it was a community theater. Impressive and well done. Interviewing the cast at the end of the show, they all stated the best part of the production was their deep and important relationships, both onstage and off. Those relationships were certainly visible to the audience. This is an ensemble piece, and an ensemble theater.
So, save dessert for the theater, brush up on your Ed Sullivan, and put Plaid Tidings at Brigham’s Playhouse in Washington, Utah, on your Christmas adventure list.
Brigham’s Playhouse presents Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe
CottonTown Village, 25 N. 300 W. Building C1 Washington, UT 84780
December 7-30 Thursday- Saturday 7:00 PM, Saturday matinee 2:00 PM
Tickets: Adults $23, Seniors $21, Children 5-17 & Students (with valid ID) $17
Brigham’s Playhouse Facebook Page
Plaid Tidings Facebook Event