It helps if you know about or experienced the 1950s.
Compared to other eras, the 1950s was a staid period. People settled down. They owned homes. They had families. They sought out conventional entertainment. Television was new but not THAT new. People enjoyed watching variety shows – and Ed Sullivan’s was the top of the bunch. Sullivan featured a wide range of performers, from hit singers to comedians to circus acts. Audiences were glued to their sets on Sunday nights.
Guy groups with a smooth sound were popular during this period, and Stewart Ross created the musical, Forever Plaid, to recall fondly this kind of music. His sequel, Plaid Tidings, carries this dedication:
Forever Plaid is dedicated to the “good guys”; to the guys who wheeled the projector carts for the AV club; to the guys who saved their allowance to give their parents a special night on the town for their anniversary; to the guys who carried an extra handkerchief; to the guys who never went beyond first base, and if they did, they didn’t tell anyone. We Salute You!
San Diego Musical Theatre is currently offering Plaid Tidings for the holiday season. It’s an earnest production of an earnest show: one that pays tribute to 1950s sounds, with arrangements of traditional holiday music and some songs that were popular in the 1950s.
Now, the music wasn’t Barber Shop, which has distinctive harmonic patterns, but it does feature four singers who need to be able to blend well, as well as solo at times. And they do. Their names and vocal parts are: Matt Ignacio, bass; Drew Bradford, Baritone; Xavier J. Bush, second tenor; and Jonathan Sangster, first tenor.
The first act features songs from the 1950s, including “Stranger in Paradise,” “Besamé Mucho,” “Hey There” “Mambo Italiano,” and “Fever.” The second act features songs that are more specific to the Christmas holidays, including one of my favorites, Steve Allen’s “Cool Yule.” There’s also a salute to Perry Como and one to the Ed Sullivan show, too.
All of this excellent singing makes up for a fairly silly premise, that the Plaids were killed in an accident and that they’ve been sent back to help “close the book” on their lives. There’s even some uncredited animation that illustrates the back story. It’s a warm show, though, especially under David Humphrey’s direction. Richard Dueñez Morrison served as Music Director and, as keyboardist, is half of the orchestra; the other half is Jiachae McGee, on acoustic bass. Erik Austin designed the lighting, Brandon Boomizad the sound. Bridgit Barahura is credited with costume co-cordination, Heather Longfellow with property co-cordination, but their counterpart co-cordinators were not credited in the program.
Plaid Tidings goes down easily. You don’t have to remember the 1950s to enjoy it. The production runs through December 24 at SDMT’s Mercury Street location.