If you prefer your theatrical entertainment to be less than Shakespearean, The Wick Theatre is serving up a solid production of an enduring piece of musical foolishness, Forever Plaid. This parody and celebration of Eisenhower-era close harmony guy groups has been amusing audiences — off-Broadway, in regional theaters and around the globe — for the past 27 years. And from the way director-choreographer Steven Flaa and his seasoned cast are serving up the material, Boca Raton theatergoers should take to it as well.
It helps if you were around in the 1950s, swaying to the sounds of such groups as the Four Aces, Four Lads and Four Freshmen — all role models for the fictional Plaids. Certainly the show’s creator, Stuart Ross, who grew up in West Palm Beach and wrote much of Forever Plaid here, recalls those days, as well as having TV memories of Ed Sullivan and Perry Como’s variety shows.
So he fills the 90-minute, intermissionless evening with mellow, aural comfort food sounds ranging from “Three Coins in the Fountain” to “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.” But what makes the show work is the way The Plaids — Frankie, Sparky, Smudge and Jinx — eager to please, but still not ready for prime time, deliver these creamy, melodic blasts from the past.
You see, as veteran viewers of the show already know, 52 years ago these four nerdy guys were on their way to a gig at the Harrisburg Airport Hilton when they were sideswiped by a bus carrying parochial school teenyboppers to The Ed Sullivan Show to see the American debut of the Beatles. Yes, pop music changed forever that night, and not just because all four Plaids perished in the crash.
Still, thanks to celestial intervention and a hole in the ozone layer, the group has returned — to The Wick, no less — to give the concert they never got to perform in 1964. So if they’re a little rusty or cannot quite remember all of their way cool choreography, please cut them some slack.
Actually, it is the momentary mistakes that generate much of the comedy, and even the mishaps require precise timing. It gets that from the Wick cast, which makes the show feel fresh, even though they have each performed it before, in some cases many, many times. This is director Flaa’s 15th production of the show, so he has amassed a rep company of singers, which he can plug into each “new” version he is tapped to assemble.
Wick audiences should be familiar with Alex Jorth (as inhaler-dependent dreamboat Frankie), and are bound to welcome newcomers Charles Logan (as choreographically challenged Smudge), Nick Endsley (as nosebleed-prone Jinx) and Adolpho Blaire (as comic cut-up Sparky). Musical director Michael Ursua accompanies them on piano, with Dave Wilkinson on bass — playing live, as it should be.
Standout numbers include the white-bread work medley (“Sixteen Tons,” “Chain Gang”) and the tribute to the Plaids’ idol, Perry Como. But as with every production of Forever Plaid I have seen, the showstopper is a double-time recreation of The Ed Sullivan Show, complete with jugglers, plate-spinners, sharpshooters, Senor Wences and that dopey Italian mouse, Topo Gigio.
Forever Plaid is hardly the most substantial show you are likely to encounter, but if they were all as well-produced and -performed as this Wick effort, we would all be a lot better off.
FOREVER PLAID, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, July 24. $55. 561-995-2333.
“Capricious” is the word that comes to mind for the choices of offbeat period and location that the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival has set its namesake playwright’s works over the company’s 26 years of existence. But as ludicrous as a production of The Taming of the Shrew at Louisville’s Kentucky Derby sounds, this time the knee-jerk transformation seems to actually make sense.
Or maybe, after attending the Festival’s Shakespeare By The Sea performances at Jupiter’s Carlin Park for over two decades, I have finally been worn down.
The Derby idea came from company founder Kermit Christman, who passed it on to Kentucky native and honorary Kentucky Col. Trent Stephens, who directed last summer’s Hamlet in contemporary Denmark. Stephens leans on the equine imagery in the play, emphasizing the parallels between mercenary groom wannabe Petruchio’s domestication of headstrong confirmed bachelorette Katharina and the breaking in of a thoroughbred horse. And then there’s the monetary transaction that a wedding represented in Shakespeare’s day, comparable to the bug business of stud servicing today.
That’s all Stephens needed to gallop off with the production concept, dressing his cast in Derby Day finery designed by Sera Peat, getting Daniel Gordon to provide a set based on the grandstand turrets of Churchill Downs and setting the initial negotiations between Petruchio and Kate’s dad, Baptista, during a horse race.
Of course, it helps to have actors of the caliber of Darryl Willis and Kelly Lee Hussey in the leading roles. As Petruchio, Willis affects a Bluegrass State accent with style and also embraces looking silly in his clownish wedding gear. Hussey is an angry hellion from her first entrance, which gives her little place to grow. Still, she and her director have come up with a satisfying twist on her problematic final scenes, winking at one of the most puzzling character transformations in all of Shakespeare.
The Taming of the Shrew is one of The Bard’s most boisterous, least subtle comedies, which makes it an apt choice for PBSF’s free, free-wheeling summer fare (the show closed Sunday).