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Onstage: Vocal Pleasures

NKU's Forever Plaid sounds great, but the story's lame

By Tom McElfresh · July 16th, 2008 · Onstage
  Forever Plaid sounds heavenly at NKU.
Northern Kentucky University

Forever Plaid sounds heavenly at NKU.

Maybe the four lads in NKU/Commonwealth Dinner Theater's Forever Plaid don't sing at all. Maybe when their enraptured opening-night audience sat listening to "Moments to Remember," the guys on the stage were actually channeling some ethereal echo of the (real) Four Lads from back in 1955. These latter-day Plaids have mastered the tight harmony.

They've got the semi-nerd, semi-with-it, dinner-jacket-and-bow-tie look. They've nailed the slick but never too slick moves. And, most particularly, they've taken on the '50s style -- doing it head on, not kidding it, celebrating it, not satirizing it.

Well, there is one lampoon: an affectionate send-up of The Ed Sullivan Show with a prototypical parade of sock puppets, singing nuns, jugglers, trained seals and an accordionist blasting through "Lady of Spain. "

The Plaid four are junior Matt Bohnert (Jinx), senior Cary Davenport (Smudge) and NKU grads Roderick Justice (Sparky) and Aaron LaVigne (Francis). When they're singing (and moving to intuitive choreography by Justice), the 80-minute, no-intermission show hits high spot after high spot -- the highest among them being "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Perfidia" and "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing."

Unhappily, Plaid's vocal pleasures are interrupted by stretches of inane, lamely paced "plot" devised by Stuart Ross. Back in 1964, we're told, the four members of a vocal group were killed while traveling toward a gig in an airport motel lounge. Now, in a starry heaven that designer Terry Powell and lighting designer Andrew Bacigalupo made to resemble a '50s ballroom (complete with satin drapes, tracer lights and a mirror ball), the guys get to do their show. And we get to hear them.

Music director/pianist Jamey Strawn is also listed as stage director. His music direction is crisp and focused, as is his leadership of bassist Todd Hale and drummer Matt Frazer. His stage direction allows the show to drift and stumble. But when the Plaids are singing, it's pure '50s.

FOREVER PLAID, presented by the Commonwealth Theatre Company at Northern Kentucky University, continues through July 27. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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