There’s enough solid close-harmonizing in “Plaid Tidings,” the holiday sequel to the nostalgic “Forever Plaid” jukebox musical about a 1950s quartet coming back from the spirit world for a concert they never got to give, to qualify as a musical.
But the comedic interplay between the four delightfully nerdy characters named Sparky, Jinx, Smudge and Frankie seems to be competing with those glorious musical moments. Sure, the mugging and pratfalls are giggleworthy and fun. But they sometimes get in the way, giving a too casual, less precise feel to the musicality even when the quality of the voices is obvious. “Plaid Tidings,” which opened last weekend, launched the new Roxy’s Downtown.
Don Winsor as Smudge, the bespectacled worrywart of the group, goes for the lowest bass notes while Ben Balleau as Jinx soars for the stars – sometimes giving himself, according to a comic plot line, a nosebleed. Kyle Vespestad as Sparky, the goofy optimist, and Joe Boover as Frankie, the hunky matinee idol, cover everything in between as they journey through medleys of old standards like “Moments to Remember,” “Amor” and “Sh-Boom (Life Can Be a Dream)” as a tribute to, and reminder of, the original show.
Despite the emphasis on barbershop-quartet closeness, all four of these “Lads in Plaid” also get solo moments to showcase themselves. Winsor, particularly, who has made a name for himself as a concert artist performing with orchestras across the country, digs deep for a brief “16 Tons” and later warms us with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Boover, a guest performer from New York, takes the lushly romantic lead for songs like “Stranger in Paradise,” and Balleau, a Wichita State University grad with experience as a studio musician in Los Angeles, takes us through a sexy Latin melange from “Besame Mucho” to “Kiss of Fire.”
Vespestad, who directs and choreographs as well as performs, has us in the palm of his hand when he turns to the audience with his deer-in-the-headlights look of terrified innocence and cuts loose with comedic riffs. He’s also the first with an ad lib when unpredictable audience participation slows or even stops the show for a moment.
Showcased in full sight on stage – deservedly – are music director Rich Bruhn with flying fingers at the grand piano and Andy Bowers on bass. Costumer Christine Tasheff colorfully outfitted the guys first in blue-white-black plaid sports jackets with matching ties, then in Christmas red cardigans with black-green-yellow plaid slacks. The looks are both endearingly nostalgic and gaudily funny.
If you go
What: 2001 holiday sequel to the popular 1990 off-Broadway musical revue about a 1950s guy quartet brought back from the spirit world for a special concert
Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412½ E. Douglas (site of the former Cabaret Oldtown)
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday through Dec. 20 with special show at 8 p.m. Dec. 23
Tickets: $22 show only, $32 dinner and show; call 316-265-4400.