Malt shop memories

A doo-wopping good time

0
Glenn Ross Photography

Next to the olfactory sense, the sense of sound is generally considered the most closely tied to memory. The smell of chocolate chip cookies can whisk you back to being a kid in grandma’s kitchen, and every time you catch a whiff of a certain perfume you reflexively recall the ex who always wore it. A song, however, can adhere not merely to a single person or event but to a season or set of years. A musical genre can epitomize an entire decade or generation.

America in the 1950s will forever be associated with postbarbershop-quartet, doo-wopinflected, four-part-harmony “boy bands” like the Drifters, The Flamingos and the Cleftones. Other groups took the fourpart even further, incorporating it into innumerable band names such as the Four Freshmen, The Four Coins and The Four Aces. Fresh-faced lads would belt out impeccable harmonies while engaged in equally tight choreography. Their songs formed the soundtrack to a generation’s fond memories of twostrawed malteds on hot summer afternoons, poodle skirts and drive-in Saturday nights.

Forever Plaid is a lighthearted love note to both this style of music and to the happier aspects of the Eisenhower era itself. First produced off-Broadway in 1990, Forever Plaid seems to become more popular with every passing year. Theater companies of all sizes regularly stage this simple, straightforward musical revue, and the current BDT Stage production represents the second time the company — which repeats very few shows — has brought The Plaids to Boulder.

Regarding Forever Plaid’s enduring popularity, Producer Michael Duran says, “This show is done [so often] because it’s always a crowd pleaser. It’s funny. It has great music and so much heart. You really love these guys right from the start. Plus, even though the music is from a particular era, I believe it’s timeless.

“We’ve been finding that younger audience members are loving the show,” Duran added. “The comedy present in the dialogue and the choreography really hooks them.”

The use of long-handled toilet plungers in the “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby” number, an entire Ed Sullivan Show — including Senor Wences! — crammed into a beautifully loopy three minutes and the hilarious doo-wop-ified version of the Beatles’ “She Loves You” are worth the price of admission all by themselves.

The Plaids are Frankie (Scott Severtson), Sparky (Brett Ambler), Jinx (Brian Cronan) and Smudge (Brian Jackson), and Forever Plaid is their onenight shot at the stardom they were robbed of when they were killed in a car accident on the way to their first big gig. That’s right. The Plaids are back from oblivion and ready to boogie. That rather flimsy framing device is all the story there is, which allows the music to take and hold center stage. The boys are there to sing and dance and tell the occasional joke rather than to service plotlines.

And they play their parts with obvious relish. Though the characters themselves are little more than two-dimensional ( Jinx is the nervous one, Smudge is the scatterbrained one, etc.), Severtson, Ambler, Cronan and Jackson bring them jauntily to life while crushing the deceptively difficult harmonies of such classics as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Sixteen Tons” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” — to the accomplished accompaniment of Neal Dunfee on piano and Carlton Bacon on bass guitar.

BDT Stage veteran Brian Jackson also makes his directorial debut with Forever Plaid. When I asked him why he chose this show to direct, he explained, “Forever Plaid has been my favorite show since I was 11 years old, and I was truly just excited to have the opportunity to work on it. I love the show. I love the little details and precision of it. I love the humor, and I love the harmony. And I especially love that it takes all four guys working together the whole time to make the show come to life.”

Whether you lived through the ’50s or only know them from Happy Days reruns and trips to Gunther Toody’s, Forever Plaid will have you bobbing your head, tapping your toes and grinning ear to ear.

ON THE BILL: Forever Plaid through May 10, BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, www.bdtstage.com, $37 and up.