“Forever Plaid’s” final soliloquy about the joy of live music hits a little bit different in this, Our Second Year of the Pandemic, than it did when the show first opened here some 30 years ago. In its first production in over a year and a half, Drury Lane chose the 1989 commercial hit about a boy band taken out in a 1964 bus crash and reunited on present-day earth for a posthumous chance to do one last concert.
“Forever Plaid” is all ear-candy peppered with upbeat comedy and poignant glimpses into the Plaids’ thwarted teenage dreams, but three of the four Plaids are despondent when their big finale — “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” — brings them to their final curtain. The astral disruptions that brought the group back to Earth are waning; this will be their last chance to perform.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Francis (Michael Ferraro), trying to rally band mates Sparky (Bryan Eng), Smudge (A.D. Weaver) and Jinx (Yando Lopez). Francis continues: “We can’t be sure of anything except how we feel, that nothing on this or any other planet compares to the feeling of being inside a good, tight chord.” Just so.
Those chords — intricate harmonies that range from the Gregorian chant-ish opener to the manic DIY recreation of an entire “Ed Sullivan Show” episode — sound fabulous in director/choreographer Paul Stancato’s revival of creator Stuart Ross’ crowd-pleasing musical revue.
The cast of Drury Lane Theater’s “Forever Plaid” includes Bryan Eng (from left), Michael Ferraro, A.D. Weaver and Yando Lopez. Brett Beiner Photography
The Plaids marvel at the onset: They have bodies again! And voices! And their beloved Perry Como-inspired cardigans! And… hand sanitizer? They shrug, puzzled, as they discover small bottles in their pockets, but gamely rub it into their hands. They’re more flustered when the audience interactive portion of the show is nixed, red flashing lights and a loud, stern voiceover intoning “Danger! Do not cross!” when the Plaids move too far toward the stage’s edges in their search for volunteers.
Audience members will find the theater’s COVID-19 protocols similarly stringent. Opening night, vaccination proof or a negative COVID test was mandatory. Social distancing was non-existent, but ushers were quick to enforce the mask-over-your-mouth-and-nose-at-all-times, discretely and effectively both in the lobby and inside the theater. (The theater is allowed to sell to capacity, although opening night, the nearly 1,000 seat venue was roughly two-thirds full and markedly subdued, at least as compared to the raucous enthusiasm of pre-COVID opening night crowds.)
The cast’s charm and Stancato’s direction make it easy to be transported to the world of the Plaids. : Eng’s star wattage is undeniable and his mercurial, luxurious croon on “Wish a Falling Star” would elicit respect from Como himself. Weaver’s remarkable, percussive bass on “Sixteen Tons” goes deeper than a mine without losing its authoritative resonance. When Lopez unleashes “Cry,” it’s with a high-tenor belt that could fill an arena and pierce the clouds. He ends it on a note that’s pure money — on one knee, fist in the air — as he unleashes the last “cry,” a single syllable sent soaring by anguish and defiance.
“Forever Plaid” plays better in more intimate venues. On a stage like Drury Lane’s, there’s always the possibility of the four Plaids being swallowed up by the cavernous space around them. With an abstract set dominated by swirls of overarching plaid, set designer Kristen Martino does an excellent job making the stage accommodate the Plaids rather than the other way around.
With conductor/keyboardist Valerie Maze on the piano and a three-piece mini-band in the pit, “Forever Plaid” offers a retro-world of musical riches. Not to worry if you don’t yet know who Perry Como or Ed Sullivan were. The Plaids will fill you in, with charm and music that still sounds marvelous.