Musical Comedy Is Nod to 1050s Groups
By Angela Oliver Messenger-Inquirer
The Plaids, a quartet of high school buddies, were eager to perform their first big gig in 1964. On their way there, though, a collision with a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls ended their musical dreams and their lives.
Five decades later, the group has been granted a return from heaven for the performance.
Back Alley Musicals will present "Forever Plaid" at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27-March 1 and at 2 p.m. March 1 and 2 in the Jody Berry Theatre at the RiverPark Center, 101 Daviess St.
Stuart Ross wrote the musical in 1990 as an homage to the male harmony groups of the 1950s.
"It's a jukebox musical; much more song-driven than plot-driven," Calvin Malone, who plays second-tenor lead singer Francis.
"There's not much dialogue at all, so these guys really have to flex their singing voices," said Dennis Jewett, music director. "They do a fine job of that."
Kentucky Wesleyan College sophomores David Baxter and Aaron Eaves play Sparky the baritone and Smudge the bass, respectively. KWC alum Michael Stone plays Jinx the tenor.
"We're a great ensemble," Baxter said. "We don't sound like four soloists; we blend very well."
Jewett, an associate music professor and director of voice and music education at KWC, is also the voiceover that instructs The Plaids to return to earth. He said he enjoys working with the cast because he's familiar with their strengths.
"The arrangements are so good and it's very difficult music," he said, "but the guys have such a positive attitude every time they come in, so it's easy to direct. It's fun. That's everything community theater should be."
The comedy is highlighted by sharp dance numbers, some crowd interactions and songs like "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Three Coins in the Fountain" and "Shangri-La."
"People my age will know these songs and want to sing and dance along, so they have that option," Ron Waite, co-founder of BAM and director of the musical, said.
One song, "16 Tons," is especially close to Baxter and Eaves, both Muhlenberg County natives.
Merle Travis, a country music legend who was born in Rosewood, wrote and recorded the song about the life of a coal miner in 1946. His father was a coal miner.
"Muhlenberg County has always been big on coal mining," Eaves said. "It's a part of our history, so it's cool to connect to that in this musical."
Though the songs and vocal styles peaked before the cast members' time, the young men said their classical background helps them adjust to many styles.
"I think we're better prepared vocally to sing without making the songs sound like show tunes," Stone said.
"At our first rehearsal, we struggled to find our sound, but now that we have, it's magical," Malone said. "We're very excited to share that with the audience."
With the premise — the Plaids died on Feb. 9, 1964, the same night of The Beatles' record-breaking first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" — and some scenes, like the prop-heavy spoof of the show, Stone initially classified the show as "shticky."
"And it is, but as I read the script, I could appreciate it for the music and the message of this group finally getting their chance," he said. "It expresses a lot of who we all are."
Tickets are $22 and $5 for students with a school ID. Patrons are encouraged to wear plaid. Prizes for the best plaid outfit will be given at each show. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 925-4963 or see backalleymusicals.com.
Angela Oliver, 691-7360, firstname.lastname@example.org
Text & image courtesy Messenger-Inquirer