After an extended hiatus, the Welk Resort Theatre is once again open to the public. Welcoming audiences back to Escondido are the ghosts from the musical-comedy revue, Forever Plaid.
Presented by Sing Or Swim Productions, the present-day show tells an out-of-the-ordinary story. A 1950’s themed doo-wop group dies in a car crash before their big break at the Airport Hilton’s Fusel Lounge. The bus that killed them was ironically full of nuns who planned on watching The Beatles first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” All four singers return to earth in 2018 to perform their planned show for audiences in Escondido.
While they all feel rusty, the leader, Frankie (Travis Leland), nervous Jinx (Nick Tubbs), Jinx’s funnyman stepbrother, Sparky (Jackson Hinden) and smart Smudge (Robert Petrarca) sing a variety of songs such as “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” “Catch a Falling Star” and “Matilda.” In between musical numbers, they take part in comedic bits, share memories and think about personal regrets they have in life.
Beyond the supernatural elements, Stuart Ross’ book does require some suspension of disbelief. It’s a little hard to completely believe that the singers aren’t as strong as they once were, especially as the performers prove to be very talented shortly after the show begins.
Forever Plaid really starts to find a groove when the friends’ self-assurance grows, and they become fully invested in the performance.
Director David S. Humphrey (who starred and did behind-the-scenes work on different versions of the tale) stages many musical numbers in a peppy style, including a fast-paced tribute to “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and finds room for intimate moments as well. Whether the crooners are taking part in a tune or discussing personal information, Humphrey keeps audiences invested in the evening.
Each of the four leads share believable chemistry, and they come across as friends who still are close to each other, even after death. Group numbers showcase their rich vocals and they have moments where they get to display different talents, including fire-eating and their use of various instruments. Props, such as plungers, a spoon and a ketchup bottle, are also used by the ensemble in comical ways.
Contributing to the lounge atmosphere are music director/pianist Justin Gray on piano, and bass player Martin Martinera. Both of them play songs such as “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby” and “Moments to Remember” that can be both soothing and vibrant.
Forever Plaid isn’t a particularly dramatic show, but there are a handful of emotional scenes where the group members express their frustration about their tragic fates, and learn to come to terms with their present situation. These sequences bring a lot of heart to the narrative, which is one of the reasons why Ross’ script continues to be a popular one with audiences.
The show is full of retro charm for both younger and older theatregoers, and Humphrey’s return to Forever Plaid winningly mixes fantasy with irresistible songs. Let’s hope that the Welk will continue to produce hit productions such as this for many years to come.