Well, color me plaid. And color me surprised. I really enjoyed “Plaid Tidings” at Brigham’s Playhouse on Saturday night.
Typically, I try to refrain from first-person subjectivity in my theater reviews, but I wanted to admit up front that I wasn’t interested in seeing “Plaid Tidings.” Honestly, I’m not sure why, but the basic plot of the musical and its non-holiday predecessor, “Forever Plaid,” have never appealed to me.
Now, however, I’m sure am glad I saw “Plaid Tidings.”
No, there’s not much of a plot. It’s maybe a slight step up from “Cats” in that regard. But when it comes to jukebox musicals (like “Mamma Mia!”), it’s not about the plot. It’s about the music. And in that regard, “Plaid Tidings” delivers and then some.
“Plaid Tidings” features four velvet-voiced singers: Nathan Benner as Jinx, Doug Knapp as Smudge, Greg Knell as Frankie, and Brant Wadsworth as Sparky. All four sing beautifully. They are the key to this production’s success. Since the plot of the play is primarily a concert, if those doing the singing weren’t any good, it wouldn’t be worth seeing.
Luckily for us they are quite good. Backing them musically is pianist Tami Creamer and electric bassists Dave Wayt. It’s surprising just how much sound can come from only two instruments. Even though many musicals feature a full orchestra, “Plaid Tidings” never feels like its missing anything musically.
Creamer and Wayt provide a perfect background for the Plaids’ effervescent harmonies. Not only do these guys sing beautifully, but they also bring a lot of heart and humor to their roles, whether they are acting, singing or dancing.
In fact, the choreography is a large part of the production’s humor (that hip action in “Besame Mucho/Kiss of Fire”!). Huzzah to choreographer Mimi Knell, who also directed the musical, for the jubilant, entertaining and even, at times, dynamic dancing.
It’s all so much fun that it’s easy to forget there is a slight plot moving the show forward. The book for “Plaid Tidings” was written by Stuart Ross while the music was arranged by James Raitt, Brad Ellis, Raymond Berg and David Snyder.
The basics are easy: The Plaids are still dead, after getting their second chance to play a show during the events of “Forever Plaid.” This time around, they come down from heaven to play a Christmas concert. However, they are a little slow on the uptake, so it takes them some time to figure out why all this holiday music is getting mixed up in their normal oeuvre.
This little plot twist actually makes for a more diverse experience. It’s not just the same old Christmas songs we hear all the time during this season. No, in “Plaid Tidings” those songs are not only jazzed up for a four-part male vocal quartet but they are also mixed in with an eclectic kick of non-holiday songs.
Pop culture references add another level of fun to the production. Just wait until you see the Michael Jackson-style “Twuz the Night B4 Christmas.”
Yes, the first half is a little heavy on exposition and there were a few prop mishaps during the Saturday night performance, but for every minor negative there are at least nine positives — like the colored-coded Christmas bells and the visual pleasure of the Plaids trying to do all the crazy talents and stunts from an early 1960s episode of “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
One of the standout positives of every production at Brigham’s Playhouse is the atmosphere there. This little community theater has something special. Part of it is the dessert menu and how they do giveaways at the beginning of each performance (those apple-caramel cookies are delicious). But it’s difficult to really put a finger on exactly what it is that creates this charming atmosphere. Most likely, it’s a mixture of many things and the overall heart the cast and crew bring to each production.
Either way, Playhouse producer Jamie Young told Saturday’s audience that it cost $48,000 alone just to secure the rights for next year’s season, which includes “The Big Five-Oh” (Jan. 11-Feb. 17), “Daddy Longlegs” (Feb. 23-Mar. 24), “Our Town” (Mar. 30-April 28), “Bye Bye Birdie” (May 10-June 16), “South Pacific” (Aug. 23-Sept. 29), Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile” (Oct. 11-Nov. 17) and “A Christmas Carol” (Nov. 23-Dec. 30).
If you enjoy theater, get out there and support this community gem. There’s still a chance to see “Plaid Tidings,” which begins at 7 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Dec. 30 (with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.) at 25 N. 300 West #C1 in Cottontown Village, Washington City. Tickets are $17-$23. Visit BrighamsPlayhouse.com or call 435-251-8000.