NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — We can all use a touch of sweetness now and then — never more so than now. I can think of few things sweeter, in the very best sense, than the musical "revue," of sorts, "Forever Plaid," especially in the unassuming, ingratiating production at The Theater Barn.
This is the Barn's fourth go-round since its first, and most memorable, outing in 1995. This production, directed and choreographed by Trey Compton with expert musical direction by Matthew Russell, is among the Barn's more appealing.
Created and conceived by Stuart Ross in 1990, "Forever Plaid" is an excursion through the pop hits of the 1950s but through the vocalizing of the period's harmony groups, like the Four Freshman, The Hi-Los.
The Plaids are four decent guys from a small town in Pennsylvania who discover they share an admiration for these harmony groups. The Plaids are born. They perform chiefly on weekend nights at various local spots, On a very special February night in 1964, while driving to the biggest gig of their fledgling career — the cocktail lounge at the local airport Hilton — they are sideswiped by a school bus filled with girls from a parochial school in Harrisburg who are on their way to see the The Beatles' American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
"Forever Plaid" draws much of its humor from the well-intentioned, sincere, hugely incongruous efforts of these white bread boys singing "hip" arrangements of ethnic folk songs or hard-hitting "labor" songs like "Chain Gang" and "Sixteen Tons." Their calypso medley winds up among the show's loveliest, especially their treatment of "Kingston Market."
In the midst of all this is a three-minute-11-second version of "The Ed Sullivan Show" that is sublimely madcap. It's not without a narrative context that, if you listen carefully, suggests that the reality of family life for at least two of the Plaids may be a bit darker than its reassuring Norman Rockwell exterior.
The guys — Joey Alan as the protective, "older brother" vocal lead, Francis, who prefers to be called Frankie; Ricky Gee as Sparky, the group's joker; Andrew Martinelli as Sparky's shy, uncertain stepbrother, Jinx, who is as lacking in self-confidence as Frankie is certain of his, without making a point of it; and Andrew Pace as Smudge, whose indigestion-inducing nervous apprehension disappears once the singing begins — approach the songs and Ross' narrative material with unassuming grace, compassion and authenticity.
In its unassuming way, "Forever Plaid" is about the simple dreams that sustain us. The Plaids are honest, decent young working class guys — Frankie was in dental supplies; Smudge in bathroom fixtures; Jinx in auto parts; Sparky, women's "fashions."
"A perfect chord. One perfect moment. that's all anyone has the right to ask for," Frankie says at one point. It's not giving anything away to reveal what we all know right from the beginning — that The Plaids do find what they've been searching for in life, in limbo and once again in life. Who, indeed, could ask for anything more?
What: "Forever Plaid." Written by Stuart Ross; musical continuity supervision and arrangements by James Raitt. Directed and choreographed by Trey Compton; music director, Matthew Russell
With: Joey Alan, Ricky Gee, Andrew Martinelli, Andrew Pace
Where: The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y.
When: Through Aug. 7. Evenings: Thursday through Saturday at 8. Matinees: Saturday at 4; Sunday at 2
Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: $27; $25 (matinees)
How: (518) 794-8989; thetheaterbarn.com