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Martin Céspedes creates a delightful “Forever Plaid” at Beck

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Do you like close-harmonic singing?  Are you harking back to experience the “good” old days?  Do you like to escape from the stressful world and just “yak” at comedy shticks and revel in the ridiculous?   Then the place for you to be is Beck Center where Cleveland’s multi-award winning choreographer, Martin Céspedes, has added “creative director” to his résumé.

“Forever Plaid” is a quirky, fun script, which takes the audience back to the 1950’s, a time of innocence, songs with words you could understand and identify with, with an occasional rock-and roll ditty thrown in.  This was the era of close-harmony boy groups (e.g., The Four Aces,  Four Coins, Four Preps).  Each step and gesture were pre-planned and in hopefully in sync.  Costumes and hair styles all matched.

Ever hear of the group, “Forever Plaids?”  Probably not.  They weren’t a real boy group, but an imagined one by Stuart Ross, who invented them as the center-piece of his musical review, “Forever Plaid.”   Ross shoehorned songs of the era, melodies such as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Undecided,” “Perfidia,” “Catch a Falling Star,” “Heart and Soul,” “Lady of Spain,” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” between far-fetched stories to develop one of the most commonly produced theatrical reviews.

The premise is that the clean-cut quartet, Jinx, Sparky, Francis, and Smudge, had finally landed their first big gig at an airport bar in 1964.  To mark the event they ordered matching plaid tuxedos.  Unfortunately, on the way to the event, the high school chums’ dream of success, including their envisioned first album, ended when a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls, on their way to see the Beatles’ American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” slammed into their car, killing all four boys.  All they wanted was to get their chance, to wear those tuxes, to appear on a real stage, before a real audience.  But, those dreams were all snuffed out.  But . . ..

The play starts as the Plaids wander onto the stage and realize that they have been given a chance to  “live out” their dream.  What follows is a series of well harmonized songs, references to stars of the day, including Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, and the Ames Brothers, and lots of high jinx.   There are instances when the boys wander into the audience and interact with viewers, even bringing one startled lady on stage to help them out and do a synchronized dance.  They tease with the audience, and reminisce about the 1950s.

One of the show’s highlights is the reenactment of  the Ed Sullivan show, complete with appearances by Topo Gigio, Señor Wences and Johnny the puppet drawn on his hand, The Great Plate Spinner, and the Bersoni Chimps.

The Beck show, under the creative direction of Céspedes, delights.  The multi-award winning choreographer shows great skill in envisioning not only a perfect depiction of boy band moves, but letting loose with shtick that would have made Borscht Belt performers proud.

The performers are Brian Altman as Smudge, the oft-confused member of the group, Shane Patrick O’Neill as Frankie, the leader with a tendency to hyperventilate when he gets stressed, Matthew Ryan Thompson as Jinx, the shy tenor with recurrent nose bleeds, and Josh Rhett Noble as the lovable, eager, adventurous, often goofy Sparky.  All have fine singing voices and display good comic timing.

On opening night, many audience members were heard singing along with the group, yelling out the names of the characters in the three and one-half minute capsulation of the “Ed Sullivan Show,” and being willing pawns in the audience participation segments.

Musical Director Bryan Bird and his orchestra (Bill Hart on percussion and Kevin Aylward on bass) created the right moods as they flowed from ballads to folk songs to rock and roll with musical ease.

Joseph Carmola’s lighting, Aaron Benson’s night club set design, Carlton Guc’s sound design, and Aimee Kluiber’s costumes, all added to the overall effect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Director Martin Céspedes’s creative directing and choreography, the excellent talents of Shane Patrick O’Neill, Matthew Ryan Thompson, John Rhett Noble and Brian Altman, and the fine musicianship of Bryan Bird, Bill Hart and Kevin Aylward, all combine to create a most pleasurable theatrical experience in Beck’s “Forever Plaid.”  It’s a relaxing, fun filled, “you’ll enjoy” it experience.

“Forever Plaid” is scheduled to run through October 12, 2014 on the Mackey Main Stage at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to