Forever Plaid (2008)

There’s something about boy bands that will get me to the day I die. Whether its Boyz II Men or ‘N Sync or Big Bang, I just can’t shake a group of harmonizing dudes with synchronized dance moves. And so it is with Forever Plaid, a deceased 1950s quartet killed after their cherry red Cadillac crashes into a busload of Catholic teens (or “slammed by parochial virgins” as one guy puts it) on their way to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Now, thanks to some funny business in the astral planes, they’ve been granted one last performance on earth before going to that big cocktail lounge in the sky.

The movie, a filmed performance of the popular Off-Broadway revue, isn’t as flashy as some of the live versions of musical shows you see today. In fact, the production has a slight home video quality to it, albeit with privileged front row access, but that doesn’t take away from the show’s humor or the impressive talent of its stars. For about an hour and a half and with no intermission, Sparky (Larry Raben), Smudge (David Engel), Jinx (Stan Chandler), and Frankie (Daniel Reichard) settle in for their last hurrah. They sing their cheery hearts out to classics like “Three Coins in a Fountain” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” the opening and closing numbers respectively, while regaling the audience with stories about how the group came to be (the high school AV club) and where they held their practice sessions (the basement of a cleaning supply store).

This was the first musical I ever saw onstage, and a quarter century later, I’m just as delighted by the four lads who make up Forever Plaid. They have a earnestness about them that transcends time and even death. Their premature end seems to have preserved their optimism, and they young-ish men have convinced themselves that things were and always will be on the up and up, never mind that they would likely have been eclipsed by groups such as the Beatles. Their lack of perspective, however, keeps the show light. These are just four dudes happy to be here and with a jaunty set list to match.

The actors all do their parts justice, not only nailing their harmonies but also the group’s tight bond. Raben, as the aptly named Sparky, shows off his character’s skill as a natural performer and the Plaid’s leader. He gently encourages his shyer stepbrother, Jinx, who comes into his own mid-song in “Cry.” Smudge has a similar show-stopping moment when he belts out his feature solo in “Sixteen Tons/Chain Gang.” Both Engel and Chandler are original cast members while Reichard originated the role of Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys. Reichard, as the young Frankie, gets the show’s most pensive monologue. As their show comes to an end and the Plaids wax lyrical about what might have been, Frankie seizes the moment, imploring them to take pride in what they have accomplished.

I almost wish more somber touches could have been added in between the humor. These days, you can probably take out the Caribbean medley (“Day-O,” “Kingston Market,” “Jamaica Farewell,” “Matilda Matilda”), which cobbles together embarrassing accents and props from a cruise ship gift shop. Instead, maybe the Plaids should ponder their cosmic fate a bit more. I care too much for them to wait until the final minutes when they really open up.

Released: 2008
Prod: Barney Cohen, Benni Korzen, Suren Seron, Christopher Gosch
Dir: Stuart Ross
Writer: Stuart Ross
Cast: Stan Chandler, David Engel, Larry Raben, Daniel Reichard, David Hyde Pierce
Time: 90 min
Lang: English, some Spanish
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019