Keeping up with the Plaids is no easy task. These doo-wop heroes are sweeter and more energetic — and it seems talented — dead than they were in life. That’s one of the tragic ironies at the heart of the musical “Forever Plaid,” a cultural juggernaut that has been a cult hit at theaters across the country for more than 20 years.
“Plaid” opens its one-month run at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival this weekend. The play just finished up a successful engagement at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, one of ISF’s sister companies.
The show is a love letter to the boy bands of the 1950s — an era of tight harmony, squeaky clean smiles and simple love songs that touch the heart.
“We’re serving nostalgia up on a silver platter,” says Mack Shirilla, who plays Frankie. “We start singing and people’s faces immediately light up.”
“A wave of memory takes over, and you can see them cuddle up,” adds Andrew Kotzen, who plays Sparky.
The Plaids, Kotzen, Shirilla, Mickey Ryan and James Penca, and their on-stage band Peter Van Reesema, Todd Chavez and Shayla Lewis, are just like the show: funny, lovely to listen to and completely sincere.
Director and writer Stuart Ross created the show in 1993 out of his love of the music he grew up with by groups such as the Four Aces, the Four Lads and the Four Freshmen. The play struck a chord with audiences that at the time were listening to boy bands of another ilk — The Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men and NSYNC.
Today, groups such as One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer carry on the tradition in pop music. The success of the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys,” which revived the sound of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, also helps add to the longevity of “Forever Plaid.”
ISF resident director Victoria Bussert and choreographer Gregory Daniels cast their production with entirely age-appropriate performers who connect to the show in a fresh way and bring a new perspective.
For as many folks will go down memory lane, “...there are just as many people who didn’t grow up with it, who are discovering it for the first time, and they’re just as connected,” Daniels says.
Now, the show has been around long enough for it to create its own memories.
“I saw it when I was 14, and I didn’t know any of the references but I was cracking up,” Shirilla says. “When they sang “Matilda,” I became obsessed with it. My sister and I Rollerbladed around my family’s basement to the ‘Forever Plaid’ album. Now, when I sing ‘Matilda,’ I remember what it was like to be out in the audience and think now how cool it is to be on stage. That song hits the spot.”
The premise is that these four lads from Small Town America die in a car crash with a bus of Catholic school girls who are on their way to see the Beatles debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” (The girls make the show.)
It was Feb. 9, 1964.
And it’s not just the end of the Plaids, it’s the end of their musical era, because our heroes pass away just hours before their music will when The Beatles hit the air waves.
“Everything changed at that moment,” Ryan says.
But in ironic fashion, this tragic end becomes the beginning for these guys. Thanks to heavenly intervention, they get to make the comeback of all comebacks, and sing all the hits they never recorded and give the performance they never gave, while singing some of the best-loved, classic songs of the 1950s.
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “Forever Plaid”
Note: Opening weekend, only berm seating is available. Sunday’s Family Night is sold out. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2 (preview), Saturday, Sept. 3 (opening), 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4 (family night), and 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 6-25, ISF Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise. $27-$45 general, $20 students with ID any night (hillside). 336-9221, IdahoShakespeare.org.