This is the third time I've encountered Forever Plaid (once with tickets given as a Christmas gift to my parents, once at the Lower Ossington Theatre) and I was concerned that there would be a certain amount of fatigue. But when a show is all about nostalgia, re-visiting is sometimes the most practical and enjoyable course of action.
Forever Plaid is, providing the voices are strong enough, foolproof. The songs are classics or should-have-been classics, the characters are so ingratiating that it is impossible not to root for them, and though the plot is negligible (just an excuse to string together the songs and skits) a bit of emphasis on the darkness gives a weight that is actually cathartic. In this production the voices are incredible if a little polished and give actual shivers of delight. And the cast works hard, charming and mugging and goofing as if their afterlives depended on it.
Because it is an entertainment, the darkness is glossed over except for the beginning, a powerful speech by Jonathan Cullen as Frankie on the transcendence of music, and the very last image. Though I should have been caught up in the music (and often was) the skits and kibbitzing tantalized with themes and subtexts that just never came to fruition, but it doesn't matter as soon as the harmonies and big smiles kick in again. The characters' nerdiness is emphasized relentlessly - particularly Scott Beaudin's inept, comically determined and horny Sparky - which adds a comic gloss but is totally undercut when their voices soar, they venture into the audience revealing that this is an exceptionally handsome and virile cast, and the slick choreography locks into place.
There are two extraordinary moments: when Jonathan Cullen (of Jersey Boys fame) launches into Johnny Ray's heartbreaking and vocally demanding "Cry" (though the gay subtext, of both the song and the character, is carefully minimized), and when Matt Cassidy applies his deep and resonant voice to a brief moment of political commentary with "Sixteen Tons" and "Chain Gang." The calypso "Day-O" is also a lot of fun (though the afterlife contains a dollar store for purchasing props) and everyone, absolutely everyone, sang along without hesitation when prompted.
The Ed Sullivan Show in three-and-a-half minutes skit earned raucous laughter though it is questionable in 2016 how many of the references still resonate beyond a demographic of a certain age - the enthusiasm and bravado of the cast (and the accordion) carried it deliriously beyond any confusion. Unfortunately the references to musical footnote Perry Como rendered a potentially touching story moot though, as a set-up for a gorgeous rendition of and evocative in this context "Catch a Falling Star," it works.
But alas The Plaids star is doomed to fall and that is nowhere more resonant as when they apply their classical harmonies to a version of The Beatles "She Loves You." It is utterly hilarious and deeply sad, The Beatles and their contemporaries were about to usher in a new era of music, one in which there was no room for acts like The Plaids. Except, now that Forever Plaid has returned, that era is preserved in an energetic, gently mocking and definitely entertaining piece of theatre.