Sunday, February 2, 2014

Review: Cabrillo Music Theatre Paints the Town FOREVER PLAID

Scott Dreier, Roger Befeler, Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Kurtis Simmons
Photos by Ed Krieger

Four guys who know there’s nothing better than being inside a good tight chord are working their extraordinary vocal magic in Stuart Ross’ Forever Plaid at Cabrillo Music Theatre. With incredible musicianship and a flawless blend, these clean-cut dapper lads are a dream for the roughly 90-minutes they cover some of the greatest hits of the 1950’s. 

These are the good guys, Frankie (Roger Befeler), Sparky (Jeffrey Scott Parson), Jinx (Kurtis Simmons) and Smudge (Scott Dreier), who spent their formative years singing in four-part harmony like their idols, The Four Freshmen and The Four Aces, and dreaming of the day they’d be able to cut their own records. They were on the verge of their big break when a busload of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to the Ed Sullivan Show to see the Beatles’ U.S. debut broadsided the boys and they were killed instantly.

Now, due to a metaphysical rift in the Ozone Layer, and who knows what other harmonically converged circumstances, the boys have been deposited back on earth, fifty years later, for the show they never got to do in life.

Once they realize it, the cavalcade of hits never stops and in between, we get to know them better, quirks and all. Jinx is the shy one with the sweet tenor voice, prone to nosebleeds if he sings too high, and Simmons makes a lovable wallflower. His stepbrother, Sparky, is an energetic spark plug who wears a retainer and loves to joke around. When Parsons is in the groove he’s an adorable comedian who knows how to get a laugh, though there are times he works a little too hard for the joke and it comes off less than genuine.  

As the Plaids’ leader, Frankie, Befeler’s boy-next-door charm works beautifully to keep the guys moving through their big show while also cluing the audience in on their back story. His personal affliction is asthma, which hits whenever things get going too fast, but it never keeps him down for long. Before you know it, he’s back with a big grin and a lead-in to another terrific song. Smudge makes the most dramatic change over the course of the show and Dreier plays him with a dead serious intensity that is hilarious. He worries about everything, can’t keep his choreography straight, and is sure he has an ulcer. When he finally busts out in “Rags To Riches” near the end of the show it is incredibly satisfying for the audience to see him come into his own.

Plaid expert Larry Raben (one of the original Plaids) directs the Cabrillo production with the kind of masterful insight that only an insider can bring. His keen eye for precision makes the intricate staging seem effortless and its efficiency highlights the comedy inherent in each character. Add to that the exquisite sound that musical director Alby Potts achieves and this show is guaranteed to melt hearts.

Rarely have the use of dynamics and a group’s ability to color words been so instantly rewarding for an audience. When they lock in on the close harmonies, the sound vibrates like one shimmering voice, making songs like “Moments To Remember,” “No, Not Much,” “Shangri La,” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” trigger an immediate visceral response. If you love music, this is a musician’s dream come true.

Innocent, smart, earnest and lovingly retro, the show is a breath of fresh air that turns back the dial from our more cynical modern day point of view and allows for a good-natured evening of fun. Best moments range from intimate stories like Smudge telling the audience how he got his 45 record collection, and the story of Perry Como and the golden cardigan, to a tough guy medley that includes “Sixteen Tons” and “Chain Gang.”

In one of the funniest scenes, the boys reenact the crazy novelty acts and entertainers on the Ed Sullivan show in short, almost manic, sequences that baby boomers will especially appreciate, and in another, giant bathroom plungers become the prop du jour for a song that they never got to rehearse with real microphones when they were alive.

Best of all, you can see Forever Plaid more than once and find it just as funny and heartwarming as the first time. With its many charms, this forever foursome is a match made in musical heaven.

January 31 - February 9, 2014
Cabrillo Music Theatre

Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd in Thousand Oaks
Tickets: (805) 449-ARTS (2787) or

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