By Debbie Ditton
Pickleville Playhouse’s “heavenly” production of Forever Plaid delights audiences with tight harmonies, crisp choreography, and perfect comedic timing at the Ellen Eccles Theatre in Logan. Directed by Derek Davis, Plaid tells the story of four guys—Smudge (Davis), Jinx (Eric Sackett), Sparky (Jake Swain), and Francis (Spencer Carter)—who, after being killed on their way to their first big gig as a “guy group,” are given the chance to come back and give the performance of a lifetime. This revue keeps the audience humming and laughing from start to finish with its warm barbershop chords and endearing wit.
The chemistry of this reunion cast (from 2012) puts the audience at ease from the first chord and makes them feel that they are actually witnessing “The Plaids”’ one shot at the big time. With Music Direction by Luke Shepherd (who is also a genius at the piano), the audience is treated to the show’s 1950s hits in a manner reminiscent of The Four Freshmen, The Cleftones, and other doo-wop groups. Their voices blend perfectly, creating tight chords, rich harmonies, and the perfect combination of musicality and heart. Not only is their harmonic prowess impressive, but each singer gives solo performances that raise the roof and make the audience erupt in enthusiastic applause. The sound of the show is rounded out by the excellent musicianship of Sam Bryson on the drums and Jim Schaub on the bass. As great as the band is, I would love to have had even more of the voices in the mix, as occasionally it overpowered the marvelous singing.
Each character in this show is endearing in his own different way. The actors are wonderfully cast, and their acting is impeccably suited to their roles. Davis’ sincerity gives the audience the feels. Sacket’s nervous twitches remind them of their youthful insecurities. Swain (on loan from the Actors’ Equity Association) is flirty and suave, and Carter’s confidence takes the audience by the hand and leads them down memory lane.
Although I have seen Forever Plaid a number of times, it felt fresh and new thanks to the clever choreography by Sharli King. Her dance moves are clean, subtle, comedic, and performed with precision. The style fits the genre but is not trite (except where it is supposed to be). Each number is unique and puts the audience in just the right mood to be fully engaged. I especially loved the contrast of the slight head hits in “No, Not Much” to the bold, manly movements of “Sixteen Tons.” The Caribbean numbers that end the first act are an audience favorite, and as the lights came up for intermission, I was delighted by a young boy dancing out of the aisle singing, “Ma-til-da, she take me money and run Venezuela.”
The simple, yet creative set design by Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre and Magic Productions puts the audience smack dab in the middle of a swanky night club in the 1950s. The band is center stage and is right in the action without being a distraction. The levels of the stage allow for the blocking to have nice variation so it never becomes stale or stagnant. The moving lights on the set are used to their best advantage to highlight musical hits and set the mood for each number. The Lighting Design by Kenneth Bell is perfectly matched to the style and feel of the show. I loved seeing the lights above the stage during the performance and felt that the overall design and use of the moving lights greatly enhanced the audience experience. I was particularly dazzled by the addition of the disco ball for the final number.
Of course, you can’t have a show without costumes and props, both designed by Whitley Davis (yes, she is married to the actor who plays Smudge). And although not many costumes are needed for this show, they are spot on and the men look completely put together. The props are fun and creative, and the beach balls in the audience brought the audience into the action. Pickleville Playhouse is a family affair, and watching their shows suggests that theirs is indeed a happy family.
Forever Plaid is a great show for families, and the Ellen Eccles Theatre is a beautiful venue. At just over an hour and a half, the show is the perfect length for kids (and husbands), and I hope they fill the theatre with even bigger numbers for their final night. Thank you to Assistant Producer Andrea Davis and her family for continuing the Pickleville tradition of great theatre—Grandpa Pickle would be proud.
Pickleville Playhouse Presents Forever Plaid – The Heavenly Musical Hit by Stuart Ross
Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 South Main Street, Logan, UT 84321
Feb 14, 16-17 7:30 PM
Tickets: $20-28, Children 3-11: $4 off
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