‘Forever Plaid’ co-creator comes back to Fort Worth

Posted Sunday, May. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Forever Plaid • 8:45 p.m. Friday (after gala), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. June 2 • Casa Mañana Theatre 3101 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth • $75 for the concert and afterparty Friday; $41-$66 for other performances • 817-332-2272; www.casamanana.org

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In the 1980s, when actor and TCU alum Guy Stroman was living and working in New York — he had been on Broadway in Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan, the show that began in Dallas and brought him to the Big Apple — he was asked by Stuart Ross to join a new show in which four singers performed songs made famous by the male harmony groups of the 1950s, like the Four Freshmen and the Lettermen.

The revue, called Forever Plaid, started with a bunch of guys who love to sing these songs at various venues in downtown Manhattan. There was a loose narrative, but a strong concept had not been pinned down to pull it all together.

And that’s when the light bulb went off in Ross’ head: Kill them.

That’s when Stroman came into the mix, joining performers Jason Graae, Stan Chandler and David Engel, with Ross as the director and James Raitt (cousin of actor John Raitt and his daughter, Bonnie) as the musical director. Stroman remembers discussing the new concept with Ross.

“If they’re still alive and trying to do this music, they come off as losers,” says Stroman. “But if they were on their way to do a performance at an airport cocktail lounge, just as the Beatles invasion was about to happen, then it becomes a mercy killing in a way, and the guys are clueless that their music was on its way out.”

That idea provided the setup for Forever Plaid, which has remained insanely popular across the country for more than two decades.

In the show, the Plaids are on their way to a gig on the eve of the Beatles’ game-changing performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. The Plaids’ vehicle is struck by a bus of Catholic school girls, and the guys perish. Now, they’re in the afterlife and still rehearsing for that show in hopes that a perfect performance will get them into heaven.

For 90 minutes, the Plaids sing nostalgic hits like Three Coins in the Fountain; No, Not Much; Sixteen Tons; and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. Audiences eat it up.

Makings of a hit

It’s such a favorite that it’s frequently revived by regional and community theaters in the surefire-ticket-seller slot in any given season. Casa Mañana has a long history with the show, beginning when Stroman first performed in it, with the original cast, in the mid-1990s. Stroman is again directing it here this weekend for Casa’s annual gala fundraiser.

Casa’s gala Friday night, which begins with dinner and a live auction, is followed by the Forever Plaid performance. There will be three more performances over the weekend.

In this production, Chris Crouch, J.D. Daw, Joe Domencic and Marcus Stevens play, respectively, Frankie, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky, the four tuneful guys who ham it up while solidly belting out note after note.

Forever Plaid opened off-Broadway in 1990 and ran for four years. Stroman, who played Frankie, stayed for two of those, and then took it to London and across the country. After the show first came to Casa, the executive producer, Van Kaplan, asked Stroman to find a local cast for a run in the now-defunct Casa in the Square in downtown Fort Worth. That production ran for four years in the late 1990s, and over the years featured such actors as Todd Hart, Neil Mowles and Paul Taylor.

The musical has also spun one sequel, Plaid Tidings, which often fills holiday slots throughout the country.

When Forever Plaid was in development, before it scored the off-Broadway booking, Stroman says. they weren’t sure how it was going to be received.

“At first, it was a 50-minute version,” he says. “We couldn’t remember what happened week to week, and so we started making up dialogue to get to the next tune.”

Audience as cast member

Eventually their ramblings were written down and published — although if you see any production, you’ll notice a bit of improvising, which mostly happens as the Plaids interact with the audience.

“There really is a fifth actor in the play, which is the audience,” Stroman says. “It’s done in real concert time.”

What audiences love is how these goofy guys with voices of gold blossom as the show builds, forever oblivious to the musical sea change that would hit after the Beatles takeover.

“I need these four guys to grow in confidence as the play grows,” Stroman says. “You really find out about these guys and what makes them tick. Then you get to the finale, where they finally have their concert.”

Stroman says that the show has stayed alive because it not only appeals to a certain age group, but to its children, and their children, who fall in love with the nostalgia.

“It’s cross-generational,” he says. “For people of a certain age, it was their prom music and dating music, and then their kids come to the show and they love it, too.”

For Stroman, the fan letters over the years have proved this.

“When you find a piece that has that kind of impact, that’s one of the reasons we do this.”

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