Nostalgia reigns supreme for audiences of a certain age in "Forever Plaid," that ever-popular revue that celebrates the songs of the 1950s and early '60s.
The 1990 off-Broadway show is back on the boards this time courtesy of Fox Valley Repertory's pleasant production at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles. (In an odd switch, Fox Valley Rep staged the show's holiday sequel "Plaid Tidings" in 2009 before it got around to the original.)
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"Forever Plaid"★ ★ ½
Location: Fox Valley Repertory, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles, (630) 584-6342, foxvalleyrep.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; through Sunday, May 19
Running time: About 90 minutes with no intermission
Parking: Free nearby lots
Rating: Some innuendo, but largely for general audiences
With a song list featuring numbers like "Catch a Falling Star," "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Sh Boom" and more, "Forever Plaid" successfully coasts along by tapping into audiences' memories of hit parades of yesteryear. Don't be surprised if you hear audience members repeatedly muttering, "Oh, I remember this song" throughout the show.
But "Forever Plaid" author Stuart Ross also built in a goofy absurdist spectral framing device for the plot. It never gets fully explained, but the plot really doesn't matter since it keeps out of the way of the songs.
"Forever Plaid" concerns a squeaky-clean harmonizing quartet of young men known as The Plaids. Killed in a 1964 car crash with a bus filled with Catholic school girls on their way to see The Beatles, the Plaids somehow have been granted the chance to come back to earth to perform.
At the performance I attended, it took a while at the top of the show for the audience to warm to the cast as they explained their characters' odd situation. But The Plaids eventually won them over with their wonderfully harmonized singing and adept comic timing.
Making up the talented Plaid quartet this time is "Plaid Tidings" veteran Robert Deason as Sparky (who also shows his piano skill in the "Heart and Soul" number), Rob Riddle as Smudge (the low-voiced one in horn-rimmed glasses), Andres Enriquez as Francis (the rallying and encouraging one) and Ryan Naimy as Jinx (the one who has nosebleeds if he sings too high).
Director Brandon Bruce and choreographer Bridgitte Ditmars put these four comically through their paces as they depict the Plaids' struggles with rusty memories and performing neuroses that dogged them when they were alive. Smudge's left-right coordination confusion is a great running gag, while the condensed "Ed Sullivan Show" number sung to "Lady in Spain" brought down the house.
Offering strong musical backing support is bassist Cory Biggerstaff and pianist Jeff Poindexter, who is given his own exclusionary gag late in the show.
The Fox Valley Rep production is handsomely produced, with special shoutouts to set designer Courtney O'Neill's oversize vinyl records stage frames and costume designer Kimberly G. Morris' cleverly accessorized plaid-accented outfits.
All these fine elements of Fox Valley Rep's "Forever Plaid" add up to make it a bona fide "hoot" (as I overheard one audience member proclaim). My major qualm is how the show's success at the start of the 1990s helped usher in a flood of other "jukebox musicals" with pre-existing song hits shoehorned into flimsy plots. Sure, shows like "Forever Plaid" and its ilk are built-in crowd pleasers, but they're also a sign of unadventurous programming -- no matter how well done.