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Review: Forever Plaid, at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Foot-tapping entertainment from start to finish on a bittersweet evening for joyous off-Broadway musical

24 December, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Alex Zane, Cameron Burt, George Crawford and Chris Short in Forever Plaid. Photo: Darren Bell

TAKING our seats Upstairs at the Gatehouse last week felt like a Christmas miracle after a year of stages standing empty, with the anticipation dampened only by the knowledge that Forever Plaid’s first performance would also be their last.

The show opened on what should have been their dress rehearsal after it was announced Tier 3 restrictions would force theatres to close once again.

This was a gut-wrenching shame for all involved in bringing Stuart Ross’s musical to life, not least because of the theatre’s success in making the night an enjoyable – but safe – experience with one-way systems, temperature checks and ample social distancing between audience members.

But oh! How glad were we that the show did go on – even if just for one night ­– because it was one filled with such joyous, foot-tapping entertainment from start to finish that the bittersweet nature of the event was all but forgotten until the last note was sung.

It is the third time that theatre owners and directors John and Katie Plews have brought to Highgate the Off-Broadway production about a musical quartet made up of “good guys” Frankie (Cameron Burt), Jinx (George Crawford), Smudge (Christopher Short) and Sparky (Alexander Zane).

Having met in high school the Plaids dreamed of becoming like their idols: The Four Acres, The Four Freshmen and The Crew Cuts, and continuing the clean-cut, close-harmony genre that came to symbolise the 1950s before rock ‘n’ roll took over the world.

But while driving on February 9, 1964, after landing their first big gig at the Airport Hilton Cocktail Bar, the dedicated foursome are killed in an accident and it is only by other-worldly means they are granted a chance to perform the show they never got to do in life. That is when the story begins.

All four performers manage to pull off a spectacular vocal cohesion taking us through blissful renditions of classics such as Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby, Chain Gang, Shangri-La and more, while producing genuinely funny dialogue and impressive dance moves. But Crawford’s (Jinx) Cry was undoubtedly the stand-out performance of the evening.

Maybe it was the Plews’ knowledge of the production that made the show so sleek and well-refined but credit should most likely go to the combined talents of cast and crew who, including the musical director Ian Oakley on keyboard and double bassist Jess Martin, brought this vibrant and dazzling show to life.

A number of the cast are billed to star in different productions in the new year, including Swains Lane-born Burt who is set to join Frozen at the Theatre Royal. Here’s hoping the current hiatus ends in time so that the four can be Plaids once more.


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