Jump back in time to that era with the Beatles were just getting started and ready to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, when Poodle skirts were things of the past, boy bands were just beginning to make headlines and crowd Elvis Presley from the top of the charts, and an up-and-coming group, Forever Plaid was ready to make their mark in the music industry.Never heard of Forever Plaid? Well, that’s because they really didn’t exist but the current show at the Chestnut fine arts Center in Olathe, Kansas celebrates what would have been their crowning achievement had they really lived and had they really died. Forever Plaid opened at the Chestnut on October 31, that’s right, Halloween. What could be better than spirits returning to the earth to provide merriment and entertainment for two hours?
Gary Wesche and Brad Zimmerman, directors, assembled the talented quartet that portrays the boy band, in the forms of Patrick Lewallen ( Smudge), Andrew Schmidt ( Frankie), Zak Smith (Sparky), and Tom Vendafreddo ( Jinx). Their harmonies and timing carried the show with panache and flair when each brought a character twist to the individual being portrayed. Lewallen wore horn-rimmed, black framed, thick glasses and couldn’t ever seem to move the same direction as the rest of the boys. Zak Smith’s character kept the group’s focus with his drive for perfection and the idea that all will be fine. Zak Smith created a very animated character who added many smiles and physical comedy to the show. Vendafreddo used a combo of great singing and hilarious facial expressions to keep him involved with the show. Together, all four provided an unforgettable evening of late 50s and early 60s music.
The quartet, backed by a three-piece combo of Brad Zimmerman on piano, Danny Kaul, bass, and Garett Heinz, percussion, belted out hit after hit from the bygone times and helped audiences remember Perry Como, Ford Motor Company’s Mercury theme song, and the Sunday night national family hour of variety, The Ed Sullivan Show.
The show keeps audiences recalling and silently singing along with the music, and the quartet’s performance of the music adds new dimension to old standards without straying too far from the originals that so many remember and love. Fifties phenomenon, Johnny Ray’s “Cry” allowed Vendafreddo to cut loose with a similar version and not risk trying to imitate the legendary songbird’s original hit. Likewise, Lewallen took the Tony Bennett early triumph, “Rags to Riches” and gave it a new delivery without straying far from the Bennett recording.
Just knowing Forever Plaid relives the memories of famous music from the pre-Beatles era allows audiences to know the kind of music they hear as the evening progresses. Such standards as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Gotta Be This or That,” Moments to Remember,” No Not Much,” “Cry,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Chain Gang,” and more fill the first hour of the show, along with the story that strings the show together.
Act II contains “ShaBoom,” “Heart and Soul,” Lady of Spain,” Shangri-La,” “Rags to Riches,” and more. A brief look at The Ed Sullivan Show draws lots of laughs from the audience as well.
Forever Plaid strays from the customary evenings presented by The Chestnut Fine Arts Center, in that it is a book show with a script that the four young men follow that also tells the story of the fictitious group. As such, the keyboard skills of Zimmerman, the percussion of Heinz, and the bass of Kaul do not get the chance to shine as they can. All three talented musicians can do far more than Forever Plaid asks of them.
As for the four performers, each brings his own stamp to his role. Each gives a funny performance. Each provides comedy throughout the show. Together, they astound the audience with their harmonies and timing. Demand a great performance from each and they will serve it up beyond expectations.
Watching four young men who probably never heard the songs before their auditions and rehearsals bring a smile to those in the audience who lived though those songs. The boys deliver great music with their own twists and upbeat arrangements. Even though they hold no life-connection with the music, they perform admirably. They are great performers.
Forever Plaid runs through Dec. 15 at The Chestnut Fine Arts Center in Olathe, KS. For more information call the theater at 913.7764-2121. or visit the website: chestnutfinearts.com. Tickets will go fast.