WINTER PARK — The four boys who make up the singing group Forever Plaid — Frankie, Smudge, Sparky and Jinx — would seem to have it all. They’re young, possess a quick wit and a great degree of charm, and best of all, they’re all superb singers.
They also happen to be dead, but then again, you can’t have everything.
Still, in the original production of Stuart Ross’ Off-Broadway hit “Forever Plaid,” the boys get a chance to come back to earth, for just one night, and perform the concert they were intended to do on that tragic night when they were killed in a car accident en route to the show. Better late than never, it’s safe to say.
Now, in the sequel — “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” — the boys get a chance to return once more, but they’re facing a dilemma. Since it’s the holidays, should they do a holidays-themed show? After a bit of back and forth, they decide to do just that — but in their own way, of course.
“Plaid Tidings” is now being produced at the Winter Park Playhouse from Dec. 3-19, and the show is nothing if not a big surprise, In the production notes, Ross notes that he was initially quite reluctant to craft a sequel of any kind to his original “Forever Plaid” show, since he considered the concept of a sequel to be something that Hollywood indulged in for movies like “Rambo” and “Indiana Jones.” Then the tragic terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 2001 changed his mind.
“It was a time when we all needed a little joy and a little cozy holiday fun to lift spirits,” he wrote.
At a time of year when community theaters often face a challenge — should they do a holiday production like “A Christmas Carol,” or perhaps “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or maybe “Miracle on 34th Street” — “Plaid Tidings” may be one of the more joyful of them all, because as I noted, it was not at all what I had expected.
The idea of four talented singers demonstrating what they can do before the microphone sounded simple and straight-forward enough — and there are moments when the boys provide us with traditional holiday favorites like “The Most Wonderful Time,” “Joy to the World” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
But this is not, repeat not, a show where we simply sit and watch the singers go through the repertoire of oldies-but-holiday-goodies. Mixing holiday songs with non-holiday ones, the boys do it in their own style, gleefully.
For one thing, this is a show where the singing, songs and dancing sometimes take a back seat to something else entirely: the humor. There’s some deliciously campy humor to it all — a bit naughty at times, often with a sly wink and nod to the audience — and even the production numbers are hardly designed to leave us watching the boys stand motionless in front of a microphone and croon. While Ross may have intended his show to be a tribute to boy bands of yesteryear, this is a tribute show courtesy of Fire Island or San Francisco’s Castro District.
Thus, numbers like “Mambo Italiano” are an absolute riot to watch. Their every move is delightfully choreographed to deliver a maximum amount of strong belly laughs, and it helps that the four performers — Kevin Kelly as Frankie, Todd Allen Long as Smudge, Michael Swickard as Sparky and Brian Wettstein as Jinx — are as richly talented as actors as they are as singers, and their skill at comedic timing is intoxicatingly good. Kelly in particular has some of the funniest facial expressions you’ll see during their zany numbers.
In a lot of ways, this does make it a very different kind of holiday show. It has a lot of the predictable ingredients — a dash of sentimentality, favorite Christmas songs, and plenty of good cheer to spare. But this production excels because of its razor-sharp fast pace and delicious humor, not always of the 1960’s TV sitcom variety.
It most definitely delivers on Ross’ promise of “holiday fun to lift spirits,” because boy if you don’t like this one, all I can to you is, “Bah! Humbug.”
The Winter Park Playhouse’s excellent production of “Plaid Tidings” continues next month at their theater at 711 Orange Ave. in Winter Park. Call 407-645-0145 for tickets and reservations.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..