The premiere of Forever Plaid last Thursday at the Segal Centre was an energetic affair. Even minutes before the show started, with the theatre filling up and the enthusiasm running high, the atmosphere was set for an enjoyable night of jukebox melodies and light-hearted nostalgia.
The mini-musical begins with a ridiculous premise. Four endearingly insecure young men die in a car accident on their way to their first real gig for their harmony quartet. The catastrophe takes place when a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles at the Ed Sullivan Show knocks them off the road.
Somehow, they get a night back on Earth, filtering through a hole in the ozone layer to enact the great performance that they missed thanks to the Beatles and their hordes of crazy fans. This is a harbinger of things to come, both in terms of the cornily wholesome jokes and the late ’50s and early ’60s soundtrack performed by the Plaids, the name of this disarmingly innocent quartet.
The soundtrack includes some of the best known pop hits of yore like Love is a Many Splendored Thing and She Loves You. The choreography is rampant with finger-snapping and elbow-pumping. At the same time, the visual design seems to have jumped straight out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. The props include Osterizer blenders, plumbing supplies and asthma inhalers. All these elements are responsible for a mysterious alchemy that makes cheesy feel really good.
To some, the Latin American section of the musical may feel a little too heavy-handed and problematic, seen as ignorant white males making fun of a foreign culture. Yet amid all the maracas, banana trees and grammatically incorrect Spanish there is a sense of true awe and novelty, taking the audience back to a moment in which discourses of immigration and globalization hadn’t really seeped in.
As for the performers, your correspondent must confess that his favorite one was Jinx. Charmingly played by Chris Barillaro, Jinx manages to put aside his insecurities and stop his nose-bleeding and fully commit to the performance. The other three members of the Plaids, Franky (Gab Desmond), Sparky (Michael Daniel Murphy) and Smudge (Jonathan Patterson) also delighted the audience with their mixture of swing-era moves and naivete.
Yet behind the hair gel, dinner jackets and all the bonhomie a certain sense of nostalgia is discernible. This comes to the fore at certain times, like when the Plaids inform the audience that they never actually got a chance to love somebody. In the same tone, memories about high school and family life point to the simpler times of life in the suburbs in 1960s America.
These brief moments of sentimentality have the curious effect of making the songs all the more enjoyable and the choreography all the more adorable. Forever Plaid is definitely one of the most delightful shows playing in Montreal.
Forever Plaid plays until February 22 at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine). $50