Pittsburgh CLO’s “Forever Plaid”

By Eva Phillips

It is surprising how a horrific accident or cruel twist of fate can catapult a career. Just ask Buddy Holly, or Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Otis Redding. Or ask the strapping young lads of Forever Plaid.

Sure, Forever Plaid didn’t really have a career to catapult, per se (although that one show at Sears was QUITE the hit); and SURE, the Forever Plaid boys didn’t so much go out in a horrifying blaze of glory so much as an awkward bus crash caused by a horde of nuns; but STILL. Forever Plaid has never shined more than they do in while trapped in postmortem limbo.

Stuart Ross’s devilishly funny and sneakily charming 1989 Off-Broadway revue, Forever Plaid, is artfully crafted around this tragicomic premise, introducing audiences to the four young men—Sparky, Jinx, Smudge and Frankie—after they perish en route to their first album release concert. To escape their inter-dimensional state, the boys must put on one heck of a show, presumably to gain entrance into heaven.

Pittsburgh CLO, in yet another successful excursion in their tried and true musical revue format, has harvested a charming gold mine with their adaptation of Forever Plaid. With an unbelievably endearing and talented cast of gentlemen as the deceased-doowoppers–Quinn Patrick Shannon (Frankie), Brandon Lambert (Jinx), Wood Van Meter (Smudge), and Zander Lyons (Sparky)–leading the charge, Pittsburgh CLO’s unbeatable formula for cabaret success soars yet again.

As the boys croon and dance their way through a delightful set-list of nostalgic numbers, including “Three Coins in the Fountain,” Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang,” Perry Como’s iconic “Catch a Falling Star,” and a number of original songs, they reveal both their affability and incredible talent as a quartet gone #toosoon. Director/Choreographer Guy Stroman brings his acumen and panache for all things of the crooner aesthetic (he did, after all, originated the role of Frankie for Forever Plaid in NYC, LA and London) to this finely tuned production that oozes heart and humor, but never in excess. Steven Freeman’s many delightful touches as Musical Director are wonderful flourishes, and he consistently pays homage to the genres and artists that inspired the musical.

Each member of the cast is as individually strong as they are powerfully complementary to one another. Pittsburgh CLO veteran Quinn Patrick Shannon is effulgent and commanding, making Frankie the glue of the heaven-bound foursome who never wavers on the dogged dream of Forever Plaid’s success (regardless of what realm or dimension they are destined to perform in). As the plucky Smudge, Wood Van Meter perfectly hones his character to be effortlessly goofy but endlessly delightful, demonstrating an impressive range and shining on numbers like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Zander Lyons is endearingly sweet and starry-eyed as Sparky, employing his vocal talents to beautifully balance and blend the quartet’s ballads. And rounding out the foursome, Brandon Lambert is a mischievous treat, transforming the character of Jinx into a curiously anxious, but wildly talented, oddball who always seems hilariously teetering on the brink of a postmortem existential crisis who can nevertheless exquisitely channel his nervous energy into a dynamic vocal performance (especially in songs like “Lady of Spain”).

There is never a dull moment in Pittsburgh CLO’s winning adaptation of Forever Plaid–from the magnificent vocal and dance performances that blend humor, heart, and infectious harmonies; to the overarching message snaked through the show, that pleasantly surprises by the final curtain. If you’re wistfully nostalgic for the sounds of Perry Como and the OG boy bands, or you’re just seeking a night of non-stop, enchanting entertainment, Forever Plaid is a crowd-pleasing, must-see.

Forever Plaid plays at the CLO Cabaret through Dec. 29th. For tickets and more information, visit Pittsburgh CLO’s site.

Categories: Archived Reviews

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