Sunday, October 4, 2015

Heart and Soul

MBT hits sweet spot with Forever Plaid

By Lily Olason

Summer has come and gone, and with it, the Mount Baker Theater's beloved Summer Rep play series. But alas! Have no fear. This month, Autumn Rep teams up with director Annie Lareau to take on 1950s nostalgia in the heart-warming Forever Plaid, and the results are electric.

After an unfortunate accident with a parochial school bus (fret not-- no students were harmed), semi-professional singing group, the Forever Plaids, depart our physical realm for the big casino stage in the sky. When precise scientific circumstances arise (the alignments of the planets, and something about atmospheric pressure, maybe?) and spit them back into their earthly forms, the group has the opportunity to perform their last show. Bursting with nostalgia, humor, tight four-part harmony, and hilarious choreography, Forever Plaid delivers a take on the past that’s not so distant, and a songbook of classics near and dear to even the youngest of American hearts.

TJ Anderson plays Sparky, a gifted tenor who can play piano and discreetly slip carburetors out of Perry Como’s car, too. If you’ve seen a few shows in Bellingham, my guess is that you’ve heard him fill a room already and are probably interested in doing it again. Honing versatile pipes to the soundtrack of the fifties, Anderson rocks in solo and harmony. “Perfidia,” among a multitude of other numbers, was a particular winner. Oh, and his acting chops are equally brilliant.

Dylan Kane plays a confident and spectacled Smudge. Plumbing supply salesman by day and magnificent baritone by night, Kane masterfully blends musicianship and hamminess, and hides the complexity behind calculated tripping, falling, lifting, playing the bongos, throwing things through hula-hoops, and of course, singing. His feature on the workman’s classic “Sixteen Tons,” (which mashed-up beautifully with Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang”) made this good-at-stuff thing abundantly clear. “Rags to Riches” also delivered hefty applause.

Dustyn Moir channeled high-anxiety Jinx with a perfect blend of AV-club nerdiness and downright fantastic vocalizing. Prone to nosebleeds and less-than outgoing, Jinx is gifted by Moir with quick, hilarious timing and a stratospheric range that rings beautifully in solo and harmony. His lead on “Lady of Spain” (complete with full Spanish attire) and “Cry” was heroic.

Casey Raiha plays Francis, an asthmatic tenor with an indelibly sweet and clear voice. Tending to a fabulous rapport between the cast, his acting was absolutely excellent, and only surpassed by his choral work. The solo on “Chain Gang” was, in a word, stunning.

Rob Viens directed the music to a T, and brought the instrumentation and multi-layered vocals together organically and seamlessly (and, he’s a pretty great actor, too). Teammate Jeremy Blas on bass was also integral.

Choreographer Kathryn Van Meter did amazing work-- She made countless big things happen in a tiny space, and if you thought the Walton Theater was intimate before, try cutting it in half and adding seats on the stage. From faux-disorganized swaying to hefting Moir in the air in a sombrero, the choreography is a total entity of its own and a joy to watch.

Forever Plaid is a worthy show, because it does what a lot of shows try to do in an original format. It’s nostalgic, in this case for the fifties, the “golden oldies”, because that’s what America was, and what a lot of things are still built upon. By the sheer act of reaching back and talking about Perry Como and Tennesse Ernie Ford and the original “Boy Bands,” by honoring Ed Sullivan with “The entire Ed Sullivan Show in three-and-a-half minutes” (absolutely dazzling, might I add), Forever Plaid allows itself to revel in a time that wasn’t so harsh, or at least, didn’t seem to be. Music is indeed a vehicle, and the Rep did an admirable job of driving it.

Forever Plaid runs Friday, October 2 through Sunday, October 18th. For precise dates and times, more information, and to buy tickets online, click here. General admission is $35.

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