by Marilyn Lester
For anyone who likes to laugh – a lot – and who’s seeking a respite from the stresses and strains of the daily grind, Plaid Tidings is for you. As a holiday iteration of the immensely popular Forever Plaid, the show sticks to the tried-and-true Plaid template with clever, witty, and frequently hilarious results. From a zany “Mambo Italiano” to an endearing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” this New York premier has something for everyone to laugh about, in a presentation that’s wholesome and refreshingly good-natured.
A quartet of immensely talented singing-dancing-joking actors, Bradley Beahen, Jose Luaces, Ciarán McCarthy and John-Michael Zuerlein play The Plaids: Frankie, Sparky, Jinx and Smudge, respectively. The conceit of the franchise is that these terribly clean-cut boys are actually no longer with us; long ago they perished in a fateful car accident. As a result, they’re stuck in time – corny, nerdy and as sweet as candy canes and sugar plums. The Plaids represent a time when “every family worked hard to fulfill the American Dream” and when innocence “has been lost in the shuffle of progress” (Forever Plaid creator, Stuart Ross).
Yet, just for tonight, the powers-that-be have allowed the boys to return to earth for a single performance, even if they struggle to understand why. As they navigate the evening they receive clues, including several from a departed Rosemary Clooney. Seeking the “über” reason for their reanimation (with a funny play on words) they sing holiday classics, such as “Jingle Bells,” “The Christmas Song,” and, yes, “The Dreidel Song,” as well as some secular classics such as Bésame Mucho,” “Fever” and “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream).” Each Plaid has a wide-ranging voice suited to the close-harmony shtick, upon which the Plaid shows are predicated. Each of the actors also possesses magical and flawless comic timing. The chemistry among them, and the energy they generate singly and collectively, could power a string of lights into many holidays futures away.
Because the Plaids got stuck in the 1950s, some modernisms confound them: cordless microphones and cell phones provide fodder for mirthful befuddlement. But all is not holly jolly in Plaidland. When pianist (and Music Director) James Followell, who contributes his own subtle comic turns, leaves the stage to take a cell phone call, and three Plaids take off after him, Frankie is left alone to carry on acapella. The result is a hilarious monologue of existential angst as Bradley Beahan frets over the lyrics of “Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer,” “Frosty The Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
The show, two acts with intermission, probably would benefit from running straight through without interruption – the pace is fast and there’s a steady buildup to the payoff: a priceless homage to an era gone by. There’s the Plaid Caribbean Christmas (putting the “Day-O” in “Excelsis”) and a rib-hugging three minute speed version of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” featuring the Rockettes, the Chipmunks, the Vienna Boys Choir, Topo Gigio and Señor Wences. The boys even get to perform with Perry Como, singing backup to a video of their idol. Finally, at the end of their splendid and successful show, the Plaids come to realize their mission: they’ve been sent back to earth to put harmony into a discordant world. The Plaids and Plaid Tidings have certainly done that in two hours of delightful entertainment. For those who take the joy and mirth with them into the outer reality, their mission certainly will have exceeded heavenly expectations.
Stuart Ross, originator of Forever Plaid has written, directed and choreographed Plaid Tidings with unremitting freshness. Vocal and musical arrangements are by James Raitt, Brad Ellis, Raymond Berg and David Snyder, with musical continuity by Snyder. A beret-clad Joseph Fitzgerald proved rock-steady with his time-keeping on the upright bass. Top-notch lighting design by Mike Megliola complimented the festive scenic design by the multi-talented York Producing Artistic Director, James Morgan. Original costume design by Debra Stein continues to delight.
Plaid Tidings, A Special Holiday Edition of Forever Plaid, Through December 27, 2015
The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Ave., New York, 212-935-5820, www.yorktheatre.org
*Photos: Carol Rosegg
Video Interviews: Sandi Durell