By Dana Casadei
Combine four of the most awkward boys you’ve ever met, add some 1950s-style singing and dancing, and you’ve got “Forever Plaid.” The musical is one of the most popular off-Broadway shows in recent years, and after seeing The Dio Dining and Entertainment production, the first in its new home, it’s easy to see why.
The musical, written by Stuart Ross and directed by Steve DeBruyne, starts off with a bang, literally. The narrator tells the audience that the quartet, The Plaids, got into a car crash on the way to their first big gig. Then they come alive (bad pun intended), walking onto the stage for the first time since the accident. Turns out they’ve been in some strange sort of limbo the last few decades (where they didn’t age), and if they don’t perform they will be stuck in limbo forever. Cue the music.
Each of the four Plaids bring something different to the stage, with some having more shining moments than others. DeBruyne’s Franky (that’s short for Francis) is clearly the leader of the group and has a monologue towards the end that is as breathtaking as some of the songs. Daniel Clair’s Jinx is the musical standout, especially during his solo in “Cry,” where the character transforms into a singer that explodes across the stage, earning Clair a much-earned applause in the middle of the song.
As for the other members, Benjamin Dennis’ Sparky oozes charisma, even though he’s probably the cheesiest character of the group, and Thomas Mate’s Smudge has a deep baritone that at times sounds like it’s wrapped in velvet, while his character is constantly messing up moves and which hand to put the microphone in.
Much like the boys, some songs are more memorable than others. “Lady of Spain” is a hot mess of gimmicks and tricks by the quartet, and I mean that kindly. That and “Caribbean Plaid” are two of the most fun numbers of the musical. Others range from a beautiful a cappella number, “Scotland the Brave” to “Cry,” a personal favorite of the evening. In a day and age when it seems everything is auto-tuned, it’s wonderful to see some four-part harmonies; you won’t find any Rebecca Black style awfulness here.
One of the things this show does constantly well is the humor, making a show that starts off with a death rather hilarious. Each actor turns their character’s sheer nerves and awkwardness into something that’s great fun to watch, even if they are like a dorky version of The Four Seasons. The group also constantly interacts with the audience, breaking down a fourth wall that basically doesn’t exist.
The quartet’s costumes, created by Shelly Walker, include white dinner jackets with plaid ties and matching cummerbunds, with dress pants and shoes. The show’s musicians, Benjamin Merte on bass and George Cullinan on piano (and the show’s conductor), add a great element to the show, with Cullinan dressed in suit coat and tails, and getting to join in on some of the evening’s jokes.
There’s a Green Day song called “Nice Guys Finish Last.” Luckily for the “Forever Plaid” boys, those nice guys finish first, earning a standing ovation after the last note rang and the lights turned off.
What sets The Dio apart from other professional theaters along the I-96 corridor is that it provides an evening of tasty dining along with the entertainment. On opening night, the buffet-style dinner included a garden salad, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, chicken, pork and pasta primavera. The ranch with the salad was one of the best dressings I’ve ever had, the country fried chicken was juicy and had a great crunch, and the mashed potatoes were creamy. And the bread was really good, too!
The Dio Dining and Entertainment, 135 E. Main St., Pinckney. Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 3, plus Wednesday, July 31. 90 minutes; no intermission. $32-39, includes food and entertainment. 517-672-6009. http://www.Diotheatre.com