Forever Plaid Strong Start for Newborn Tidewater Stage
By Montague Gammon III
Our region’s newest professional theater company, Tidewater Stage, sprinted off to a promising start last month with a thoroughly enjoyable, carefully and intelligently directed production of the slightly quirky 50′s musical revue, Forever Plaid.
Their second show, Neil Simon’s romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park, opens at the sponsoring Regent University this weekend.
Plaid is a musical reminiscence of the pre-Beatle days of vocal rock, lightly veneered with a ghost story, or a story of heavenly afterlife.
The four members of the 1959-64 vocal quartet roughly equivalent to one of today’s garage bands, a fictional American quartet calling themselves The Plaids, were killed on the way to their breakthrough concert engagement. (Or on the way to pick up their plaid tuxedoes for that concert; that detail was the subject of apparently conflicting explanations.)
They died when a school bus full of teen girls on their way to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show smashed into their old American car, a neatly wry metaphor for the singular watershed event of rock history. (Maybe the singular watershed event in post-WW2 cultural history, but that’s another essay.)
The Plaids, played by Christopher Graham, Garney Johnson, J. Derek Leonidoff and Andrew Wilson find themselves returned to life on a modern stage, with the opportunity to recreate a concert.
That’s as good a premise as any for a nostalgic run through the harmonic blooms of songs like “Three Coins In the Fountain,” “Cry ,” “Sixteen Tons ,” “Chain Gang ,” three Perry Como tributes including “Catch a Falling Star,” and the almost requisite finale of “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” along with a bunch of others.
The performers sang well if not celestially, created distinctly defined individual characters, and neatly progressed from a befuddled bunch of revenants just feeling their way back into life and their music to a reasonably polished, self-assured harmonizing quartet.
Those developments of particular and ensemble characters are the most important hallmarks of Eric Harrell’s directing. (Harrell is the Producing Artistic Director of the company.) The careful, subtle attention to detail that was evident throughout Forever Plaid, applied to Barefoot in the Park, should provide audiences with good entertainment.
Neil Simon’s comedies, especially the early ones, are often dismissed as fluff. Certainly they can be seen (and produced) as gag driven lightweight entertainment, but Simon benefits greatly from smart and sensitive directing, as the brilliant Virginia Stage Company production of Odd Couple proved a few weeks ago.
His comic characters often reveal serious dimensions, constructed with psychologically acuity. If the directing and acting in Forever Plaid are reliable indicators – and they should be – the newlyweds whose sweet story makes up Barefoot in the Park will have real, realistic and satisfying depth.
Forever Plaid by Stuart Ross
(Closed July 14)
Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon
Aug. 2-4 & 9-11
Regent University Performing Arts Center
1000 Regent University Dr, Virginia Beach 23464