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Jan. 27, 2005
Behind the Stage Door

Time Warp!

Forever Plaid at the Ferndale Rep


TRYING TO REVIEW MOST MUSICALS IS LIKE TRYING TO herd cats into a carrier one-handed. I only have 700 words, and with the huge casts and crews there are few words left to spare. Fortunately, Forever Plaid is not only easy to explain, it's easy to enjoy, and almost everyone will recognize some or all of the classic songs. The packed opening night audience applauded the tight harmony and laughed at the innocent antics of the Plaid boys.

In and around their songs, we learn the whole story. The Plaids were friends in high school who started performing together at family functions and small events. On their way to pick up their custom-made plaid tuxedos they were all instantly killed in a car accident and -- after a span of 40 years in the mystic void -- they return to a theater with a live audience to give the show they never could.Photo -- cast of Forever Plaid

From their candle-lit entrance to the grand finale song, "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," the Plaids entertain with a string of nearly three dozen songs, audience interaction and comedy. Outstanding highlights include a hysterically funny 3-minute-and-41-second take on the long-running television hit variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show, "Heart and Soul," a percussive "Chain Gang" and a spirited Caribbean medley that ends the first act.

[From left: Leo Roehrich (Frankie), Gavin Donnellan (Smudge),
David West (Sparky), Branden Williams (Jinx).
Photo courtesy of Dan Tubbs.]

Director Clair Yarrington commuted from California Theatre Arts in Walnut Creek to the Rep, and the cast of four learned much of the music from CDs of the original performances, shortening rehearsal time to a schedule more familiar to professional houses than the Rep.

After opening night, the actors noted that because Yarrington isn't a Humboldt County regular, they were judged on audition, not stereotyped into roles they've played before. This let them stretch and grow in unanticipated ways, as did the opportunity to carpool to and from rehearsals, singing in harmony like the original Plaids.

While one of the best things about Humboldt theater is its insistence on age appropriate casting, here it becomes poignant. The actors were born a generation after boy-group harmonizing died in the face of the rock-and-roll British Invasion of the early 1960s.

The youth and innocence of Branden Williams (Jinx, first tenor), Leo Roehrich (Frankie, second tenor), David West (Sparky, baritone) and Gavin Donnellan (Smudge, bass) plays into the material in a way that the older, original cast can never match. This was particularly evident during the sidesplitting Sullivan show spoof where their good-natured inner selves pop right into character and take on the most challenging material in this musical with grace and style. Try to make a mental prop list as the Plaids, cavort, hop, juggle, conjure and skewer just about every weird act old Ed ever aired -- all in less than four minutes.

Even a show produced out of the mystical void cannot go on in a vacuum. The design team includes Daniel L. Lawrence (set), Jesse Talbert (lights), Beth Lanzi (costumes), and Gabriel Groom (sound) and live piano accompaniment by local jazz legend John Raczka.

If you like voting with your pocketbook, there are two upcoming benefits: a Sunday, Jan. 30, matinee for the College of the Redwoods Foundation League's annual scholarship fund-raising drive and Thursday, Feb. 10, for the well-deserving cast and crew.

On Saturday, Jan. 29, "Think Pink" and come down to Ferndale for the annual flamingo parade sponsored by the Ferndale Rep. To participate in the parade, or for more information or Forever Plaid tickets, visit or call the box office at 786-5483. The Ferndale Repertory Theatre is on Main Street in the Victorian Village of Ferndale, just 19 minutes south of the last stoplight in Eureka on 101.


January 27 to February 19:
Shakespeare's comedy, Two Gentlemen of Verona, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 300 Fifth St., Eureka. 442-NCRT.



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