Friday, October 03, 2008

Forever Plaid

There was an exciting happening on 10th and K Streets on Sunday night. California Musical Theater opened its sparkling new Cosmopolitan Cabaret with the musical production of “Forever Plaid,” and ushered in a new kind of entertainment that could go a long way to revitalizing the downtown area.

The beautifully redesigned building (once a Woolworth) is nothing but inviting. For one thing, parking is plentiful, with a big parking lot right next door. The space is shared by the “Cosmo CafĂ©,” a new Paragary restaurant, at which patrons can book a table for a couple of hours before the performance (the price of the dinner is not included in the price of the performance). Next month a nightclub is expected to open upstairs, rounding out the patrons’ evening’s entertainment, for those who wish to extend their partying beyond the two hour cabaret performance.

The decor is clean and open with a large bar at which you can purchase drinks to take into the cabaret (there are stands for menus on the tables inside and a press release stated that there would be “pre-performance cocktail service in the theater,” but no menus were displayed and there did not seem to be any hint of waitpersons around on opening night).

Inside the cabaret itself one has the choice of sitting at small tables for four, or in tiered seating, with chairs in front of a beverage rail. The dark walls and soft lighting made for a very lush feeling. One of the persons seated at our table exclaimed that she was a fan of old movies where cabaret scenes like this were popular and that she had long hoped for a venue such as this in Sacramento. She was very excited to see the project finally come to fruition.

The opening production for the Cosmopolitan Cabaret is the delightful “Forever Plaid,” which will have an open-ended run. It’s the perfect sort of production for this type of venue and if it can find its audience, the run could be a long one, especially given that ticket prices are more affordable than some other theaters in the area.

The 1990 off-Broadway musical comedy, written by Stuart Ross, is a salute to the boy bands of the 1950s–The Four Lads, The Four Freshmen, The Four Aces, etc. The Plaids are a fictitious band who never made it to the big time, and who were killed in a terrible auto accident, colliding with a busload of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to the Ed Sullivan Show to see the United States debut of The Beatles.

The group has been dead for 44 years and now through some cosmic twist of fate or hole in the ozone or some reason nobody quite understands, they have returned to earth to do that one big concert. Their entrance into the theater, reminiscent of the local popular group, The Edlos, is perfect.

The cast for this 2 hour (no intermission) show are all veterans of other productions of “Forever Plaid.” Chris Crouch is Sparky, the baritone; J.D. Daw is Jinx, the high tenor (with a penchant for nosebleeds); Sean Hopkins is Smudge, the bass; and Justin Packard is Frankie, the lead tenor. The show is directed and choreographed by Guy Stroman, Frankie in the original New York cast.

Though none of these guys is old enough to know the music they are singing, they are spot on. The close harmony singing is perfect, the choreography executed with military precision. This is the music that I grew up listening to and as they rattled off song after song I was transported back in time – “Three Coins in a Fountain,” “Love is a Many Splendoured Thing,” and “Moments to Remember,” which everyone danced to at their prom.

In between are some hokey comedy bits, some touching sentimental bits about each guy’s past life (a section on a reverence for records was particularly good), and a bit of audience participation.

A highlight was a tribute to the old Ed Sullivan show, which managed to cram everything you ever remember about Ed Sullivan into one brief segment, all performed to an accordion rendition of “Lady of Spain.”

Sets, props and costumes are from Pittsburgh Clo, with lighting by Steve Odehnal, and combined to give an almost magical touch of “plaid” on the stage at just the right moments.

The show was wildly popular with the audience and should do well for a long time if it can find its people. I don’t know how much it will appeal to a younger audience, raised on rock & roll, who never saw Ed Sullivan or Perry Como (who also gets a loving tribute in this show), but it would be hard to not to like the easy listening harmonies or to not to be taken in by the engaging quartet singing their hearts out for the one big shot they never got in life.

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