“What’s the worst that could happen, we’re already dead”
On their way from East Pennsylvania to the big time, four-piece close harmony group The Plaids were tragically killed on the way to the concert that was gonna make them, waylaid by a car crash with a bus full of schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles. But through some supernatural intervention or other, they’re given the chance to nip out of the afterlife for a while to perform the gig that never was.
Such is the set-up for Stuart Ross’ Forever Plaid, a daffily charming revue of 50s hits that fits in perfectly to the cabaret space in the depths of the St James Theatre. And directed by Grant Murphy, there’s a highly amiable quartet of ghostly gents in Keith Jack, Jon Lee, Matthew Quinn and Luke Striffler, taking us through the trials and tribulations of remembering choreography and chord progressions when you’re dead.
It may seem a slightly disarming concept but one which is soon filled with boyish charm and comic potential that is frequently fulfilled. Ross’ book may be slight but it is heartfelt – there’s something rather lovely about the love of music that shines through Quinn’s Smudge. And though clearly in love with the era, it equally isn’t too in thrall to it – Perry Como comes in for a bit of ribbing as does the boys’ worshipping of him and the memento they carry.
All four guys discharge their duties with aplomb and a wonderully charming awkwardness – whether Quinn pulling double duty on double bass, Jack’s fondness for a handful of fake snow, Lee’s sweetly smooth vocals or Striffler’s unbounding energy, their interactions speak of a real harmony between them all. Murphy’s choreography is remarkably tricksy (long-handled plungers anyone?!) but ideally suited and the twists and turns of the vocal arrangements are impressively done.
Truth be told, I knew few of these 50s pop hits (‘Perfidia’, ‘Moment to Remember’, ‘Cry’) but it really didn’t matter as Bob the pianist (aka MD Anthony Gabriele) leads creatively from the piano to create a musical mood that is familiar at an elemental level. And if the show begins to run out of steam a little – a couple of the post-interval skits don’t quite pay off – the swift return of the beautiful music these men are making here, and the warm sense of nostalgia it encourages, is a thing of sweet loveliness.