Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 30, 2019

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, Forever Plaid

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through December 8, 2019
by Barbara Stroup

A slow procession of four male singers makes its way to a stage bathed in blue, while singing church-like music that ends with the word “Shaboom.” Caught between two worlds after the car crash that killed them, the four members of the 50’s boy band “Forever Plaid” must perform their show in order to progress to the hereafter. And so begins this fantastic review of the best ballads of the era, sung flawlessly by Tomm Knightlee (“Smudge”) the bass-baritone, Bryan Austermann (“Jinx”) a high tenor, Brian Michael Henry (“Sparky”) tenor, and Chris Coffey (“Francis”) tenor. Their vocal ranges exceed these designations, and they contribute equally to a fabulously blended sound. The ballads of choice have more complex chord progressions than the standard do-wop chart, so the audience never tires of listening to the lineup of love songs that fill this two-hour production.

Nor can the audience tire of watching, because Stacy Ashley’s choreography fills the stage with movement. Using all of the space, the singers croon close to and distant from each other, and never lose the pitch. They are always graceful and sometimes even acrobatic in reviving the arm swings and leg movements that have come to characterize the boy groups of the era. The choreography suits the words, sometimes whimsical, and often even humorous as the audience recalls watching groups like “The Lettermen” and “The Four Lads.”

Act I includes a  list of hits that includes a bow to both Perry Como and Harry Belafonte. A high point for this audience member was their rendition of “No Not Much,” and Bryan Austermann’s “Cry” deserves special mention. Act II does not allow the attention to wander as it opens with every piano student’s duet, “Heart and Soul” (with audience participation). The music program morphs easily into a hysterical “re-broadcast” of Ed Sullivan’s greatest guests, a choreographic peak of entrances, exits and costume changes.

Director Ben Ashley states that he, “fell in love with this show” decades ago, and his devotion shows. He allows the music to be the focus  and does not muddy the production with staging quirks or gimmicks. Majestic audiences who revere him as Buddy Holly, now have a chance to appreciate his directorial skill and hope to see more from him. The indomitable and multi-talented Mitch Chakur and his group continue to provide awesome instrumental support. With this production of “Forever Plaid, the Majestic Theater continues to fill the house by offering audiences worthwhile theatre-going experiences.