by Clark Groome
Sparky, Jinx, Frankie and Smudge, the four guys who make up “The Plaids,” a 1960s’ male singing group, were killed when their car was hit by a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to “The Ed Sullivan Show” on which the Beatles made their American debut.
The Plaids were on their way to pick up their plaid tuxedos before appearing at a major event at the Airport Hilton. Their biggest gig before that had been at the opening of a Sears store.
For whatever the reason — apparently they were singing a perfect chord when they were killed — they got what was originally to be a one-concert reprieve. That reprieve, known as “Forever Plaid,” was such a success that they’ve gotten a second chance.
This time they do some of the music from their first show but find that the Powers That Be want something different. Notes float down from heaven. They get a cell phone call. All from Rosemary Clooney, who gradually leads them to the true purpose of their second return from the afterlife. Their mission is to continue to bring harmony to the world, this time by performing the Christmas show they had planned before their untimely death.
Fortunately, they’ve chosen the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 to make their show come to life. Their return visit plays through Dec. 30.
Filled with humor, warmth, some profound ideas about what harmony really is and a bucketful of great songs (some seasonal, some not), “Plaid Tidings” is a real Christmas treat.
The Plaids are a typical ‘50s and ‘60s boy group. Tight harmonies and clever banter make their presence a pleasure. At the Walnut, Sparky (Michael Philip O’Brien), Jinx (Greg Nix), Frankie (Christopher deProphetis) and Smudge (Ben Michael) make a convincing case for their being granted this additional return visit.
Accompanied by music director/pianist David Jenkins and bass player Andrew Nelson, “Plaid Tidings” also has the Plaids accompanying Perry Como and a three-minute, 11-second, edition of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” complete with jugglers, opera singers, Jose Jimenez, a trained seal and a bunch of other acts.
It’s not only clever; it’s imaginative and smart. And it’s extremely well performed.
Larry Raben directed and choreographed the show that features the good design of Glen Sears (set), Shon Causer (lighting), Mary Folino (costumes, not all of them, surprisingly, plaid) and Zachary Brown (sound).
The projections, which are not credited in the program, are integral to the piece and are extraordinary. In them we see the Hand of God, Rosie Clooney, lightning bolts, Perry Como and several TV commercials from the 1960s.
If you have any doubts about what Santa’s doing this time of the year, be grateful he made a stop at the Walnut and dropped off a terrific present for anyone lucky enough to see “Plaid Tidings.”
For tickets to the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3’s production of “Plaid Tidings,” which plays through Dec. 30, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org