Stage & Dance

Review: 'Plaid' showcases burgeoning talent, theater's mission

Forever Plaid's Connor Hall, left, Ryan Hornung, Justin Miller and Zack Damron sing Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby, with oversize plungers as they remember rehearsing in a janitor's closet.
Forever Plaid's Connor Hall, left, Ryan Hornung, Justin Miller and Zack Damron sing Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby, with oversize plungers as they remember rehearsing in a janitor's closet. Lexington Herald-Leader

Studio Players' entertaining production of Stuart Ross's 1990 musical Forever Plaid is a textbook example of what a community theater show should be: a training ground for young talent and a setting in which veteran amateur talent can shine.

This lark of a play about a 1950s boy group whose members are killed on the way to their first semi-professional gig and come back in the here and now to complete the concert is really just an excuse to revisit beloved pop songs of the era. But the characters are sweet and charming, and the script is clever, with better witticisms and gags than most topical revues of this kind.

As the four young men, Zack Damron, Connor Hall, Ryan Hornung and Justin Miller bring infectious enthusiasm to their performances. They are not polished singers, dancers or actors, to be sure, but they don't hold back from having fun with one another or with the audience. They are perfectly convincing as an amateur boy group, in it as much for the camaraderie as for the music. In fact, their unpretentious and unself-conscious portrayals of the roles make them seem more like the real guys they are than stereotypical comic figures in a quartet. By the end of the show, all four have endeared themselves to the audience.

The experience these young men are gaining onstage is greatly enhanced by the high-quality work of the production staff, many of them longstanding theater artists who have honed and exhibited their crafts at Studio Players for decades. The simple but effective scenic and set design by Ed Desiato and Bob Kinstle provides surprises throughout the evening and is rendered tastefully, even elegantly. Likewise, the costumes by Ellen Hellard, who also produced the show, are eye-catchingly theatrical.

The unending stream of amusing props, credited in the program to a committee of four, demonstrate an admirable attention to detail. The plaid notebook that one character pulls out early in the show is just the first of many plaid items, and among all the tropical props enlivening the calypso sequence in the second act, the ingeniously creative banana branches are particularly fun.

The Plaids present almost 30 familiar songs, and the uncomplicated stage direction and choreography by Scott Turner and Jacqueline Eaton provide momentum for the show's high points. In the first act, these include Perfidia overrun with Mexican paraphernalia, Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby with oversize toilet plungers, the Beatles' She Loves You sung in bubblegum-pop style (cute), and the finale, Catch a Falling Star, imagined as a Perry Como tribute, complete with an enshrined cardigan sweater.

The young men have learned their music fairly well under the musical direction of Jessica Slaton, and they have good voices, but they all could profit from further vocal training. Their blend is pretty good, but unsteady moments crop up in the close harmony sections, such as in the first song, Three Coins in the Fountain, and Scotland the Brave is just a mess vocally.

One supposes that the parts will coalesce during the run of the show, and the singers are well supported by pianist Byron Turner and excellent bassist Bryan Andrews.

With the fine work of dedicated amateur theater artists of varying experience on display in this show, Studio Players has again fulfilled its valuable mission of providing the opportunity to participate in theater created by and for the people.

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