Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC)
Astoria, NY - May 2006
Reviewed by John Kenrick
Most any theatre company can stage an enjoyable revival of an established hit, but it is a rare thing indeed to find a revival that actually matches the excitement and energy of the original -- and that is exactly what the Astoria Performing Arts Center is offering in its superb new production of Forever Plaid. What makes it all the more delicious is that they are doing this in a Queens basement. Yes, great theatre can happen anywhere!
Its been a challenging year for this spunky little theatre company, which has kept up an ambitious production schedule despite administrative changes and the loss of its longtime theatre. APAC's current performing home is a cellar theatre in a townhouse right beside the Triborough Bridge -- the sort of cozy, improvised space where off-Broadway companies used to work magic in days gone by. Well, thanks to APAC, the spirit of those days lives again, and the result is two of the jolliest hours I've spent in any theatre this year.
Stuart Ross's Forever Plaid is deceptively simple. A male pop quartet killed in a 1964 car crash (en route to their first professional gig) has been stuck ever since in some kind of limbo. They return to earth for one night only, in order to give their concert and fulfill their dream, filling the stage with hokey comedy, endearing personal revelations, and tons of gorgeous close-harmony singing. Filled with classic period hits ("Three Coins in the Fountain," "Rags to Riches") and bolstered by affectionate tributes to such cultural icons as Ed Sullivan and Perry Como, Forever Plaid is a sure-fire audience pleaser for most any age group. As a result, many amateur and professional productions have assumed that all this show requires is four good singers and some accompaniment -- quite forgetting that the long-running original production relied on creative staging and performers with extraordinary comic instincts.
Fellow Plaid fans will be delighted to learn that APAC puts this loveable show back into top-notch working order. Director Brian J. Swasey has the good sense to respect the key routines built into the show, but he goes the extra mile by throwing in plenty of ingenious touches and selecting a cast of gifted singing actors. No "going through the motions" here -- this is as real and fresh as a brand new hit. With solid support from musical director Jeffrey Campos, a simple but handsome set by Ryann D. Lee, and extremely creative lighting by Erik J. Michael, Swasey & company deliver a swift-paced, utterly disarming Forever Plaid.
Each of the four fictional troubadours is given a clear and immediately recognizable personality, and each gets ample opportunities to shine. By the final number, you feel a genuine affection for this quartet, and a genuine regret that the fun is ending. (And when was the last time that you really regretted that a show was over?) Every cast member is a potential show-stealer, so its a good thing they are evenly matched. Frederick Hamilton is a handsome and hilarious Frankie, Joseph Torello makes the bass-singing Smudge a loveable teddy bear, Ryan J. Ratliff is an adorable and daffy Jinx, and Shad Olsen is irresistible and charming as Sparky. I watched an audience that ranged in age from seniors to school kids fall head over heels in love with this show and give this cast that rarest of honors -- a genuine, cheering, standing ovation at a neighborhood theatre.
This is easily the most delightful incarnation of this show that I have yet seen -- and I have seen and loved many since it first appeared Off-Broadway. What a pity APAC's Forever Plaid only runs for three weeks -- otherwise, I would go back time and again just to revel in it all. Kudos to APAC for carrying on its six year tradition of quality theatre in Astoria. Would that all of the outer boroughs could boast productions as delightful as this!
This production closed on May 14, 2006.
Link to: APAC website