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Forever Plaid at Encore is terrific entertainment (review) April 22, 2011

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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Forever Plaid, which opened tonight at the Encore Musical Theater Company in Dexter, will bring you “plaid tidings”, um, you’ll be “plaid you went”, er…you’ll “boldy go where no plaid has gone before”….

Yeah, okay, it’s that kind of show…and it is terrific. The actors are wonderful, the scenic design spiffy, and the entire evening fun and entertaining. There are even a few stage surprises along the way, and tribute Barb Cullen for another great directing/choreography job at Encore. The pacing is swift, the numbers flow from song to song, and it makes for a great evening of musical theater, with emphasis on the music part.

There isn’t much to the story — Plaids die in car crash, mysteriously re-appear for one last concert together, sing, frolic, and generally make mischievous fun with an evening of early 60’s songs sung in tight harmonies, solos, duets, and combinations. There’s a mirror ball, and bubbles. Lights twinkle merrily in the set (sometimes too merrily).

But oh what plaid tidings the actors bring to this production!

Leo Daignault (Jinx) brings years of Plaid lineage to the show having performed in Boston, San Diego, Tokyo, and Chicago with the show. He’s great in a performance that ranges from subtly nuanced to, well, not subtle or nuanced.

Steve DeBruyne (Frankie) turns in another outstanding Encore performance. Serving as the Plaid’s leader he’s a fine entertainer. New York Agents take note — this actor needs representation!

Phill Harmer (Smudge) is hilarious — I couldn’t stop laughing at his takes, facial expressions, and comic timing. His “Sixteen Tons” is ridiculous. I loved it.

But most of all, I liked Sebastian Gerstner (Sparky) in this production. He’s hard to resist throughout — his eyes twinkle with merriment, he’s a fine actor on top of being a great singer and dancer, and were those tears I saw welling up in the final sequence?  The “my mother/my stepmother” sequence between he and Leo was the comic highlight of the show. Great job.

Kudos also to pianist Brian E. Buckner, and Billy Satterwhite on bass.

“Forever Plaid” holds a special place in my theater heart — my nextdoor neighbor in NYC was Jason Graae of the original production, and I can’t count the number of times I saw the original at Steve McGraw’s in NYC. I am happy to say that, while very different from that production, Encore’s is every bit as entertaining. There’s a bit less dancing, but it’s offset by a bit more heart. And the vocal work is tremendous.

The show is not without one or two slow spots; and the arrival of the cast onstage in their plaid jackets for the final sequence does not have enough emotional resonance, but those are minor quibbles. This is a generally zippy intermission-less 90 minutes of solid entertainment.

Go treat yourself to a spring treat at the Encore. Forever Plaid runs through May 15th, and tickets are available online at theencoretheater.org, or by calling 734-268-6200.

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