Writing Broadway musicals isn’t hard. The perfect musical has these elements:
• A cast of wacky, interesting characters;
• A finely crafted premise that puts them together; and
• A snappy, witty group of songs that sort of advance the plot, but most of all leave the audience singing as they leave the theater.
OK, maybe that’s not so easy. Even harder can be creating a big musical suited for a high school production, with lots of parts, a Bollywood-size platoon of dancers and singers, and a few show-stopper solos or duets. Building on his four-character hit, “Forever Plaid,” writer Stuart Ross has created a glee-club version, “The Sound of Plaid,” that does just that.
This spring’s big Homer High School production, “The Sound of Plaid” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Mariner Theatre, with performances at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Music director Kyle Schneider, stage directors Laura and Peter Norton, and choreographer Jill Berryman have once again teamed together to cajole, encourage, persuade and direct adolescent talents into what’s become a spring tradition — the Mariner musical.
“The Sound of Plaid” has a premise so goofy, so absurd it actually is fun. Fifty years ago in 1964, a group of friends formed a student choral group, the Pleasantdale High School Glee Club, known as The Sound of Plaid. On their way in a school bus to pick up their custom plaid tuxedos and skirts, the bus collides with another school bus of Catholic school girls on their way to see the Beatles at the Ed Sullivan Show. Struck by lightning, they are taken from the planet and cast into limbo. “Through the Power of Harmony and the Expanding Holes in the Ozone Layer (and other astro-technical stuff), they are allowed to come back to perform the show they never got to do in life,” the show’s book reads.
In “Forever Plaid,” the premise is the same, but simpler: four guys, The Plaids, sing four-part harmony in the classic 1950s and 1960s doo-wop style.
That’s the show’s hook, a way to showcase 20th century pop songs like “Chain Gang,” “Day-O,” “Kingston Market,” “Lady of Spain,” “Magic Moments” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.” The grandparents of high school students will be snapping their fingers.
“This show is going to be great,” Schneider said. “It’s going to bring the music of a prior generation and bring it to a new generation.”
In dress rehearsals on Sunday, Berryman worked the performers through an intricate choreography. For example, in the number “Gotta Be This or That,” Berryman had to get the entire cast lined up for their introductions and then segue into one of those West Side Story, Sharks vs. Jets numbers with two groups on opposite sides of the stage dancing against each other. In a previous life, Berryman must have herded cats, because after a few fumbled attempts, the kids nailed it.
Parents of performers looking for their kid’s appearance might as well sit back and relax: pretty much for every number, the cast of dozens is always on stage. This is an egalitarian effort, with a few spotlight solos backed by strong voices who give the production that big choir sound.
Silly as the premise might be, “The Sound of Plaid” has a lot of heart. The show follows the growth and resurrection of a group struggling to regain their voices. The magic of the show is that the show must go on. If The Sound of Plaid quit singing and dancing, they’ll be trapped between life and death.
“The overall lesson is ‘taking your chances while you can,’” said Owen Duffy, a graduating senior who plays the role of Smudge.
But what happens if The Sound of Plaid finish the show? The answer to that question is in the show’s finale. For seniors looking forward to new opportunities, the show also raises a question direct to their experience. Do you finish what you’ve done and move on?
“You don’t want to let go, but you know you really have to,” said Matthew Myer, who plays Jynx. “That really hurts as a senior.”
Oh, and just for fun, the directors of the show encourage to audience to get in the spirit of “The Sound of Plaid” by wearing plaid — or tartan — to the show.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.
The Sound of Plaid
7:30 p.m. Friday
3, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
General admission, $12; seniors, $10; students, $7; family, $35 on sale at the Homer Bookstore
Kyle Schneider, music director
Laura and Peter Norton, stage directors
Jill Berryman, choreographer
Stage band: Lorraine Williams, piano; Hal Spence, guitar; Jack Wills, bass guitar; Jim Buncak, drums
The glee club version of Forever Plaid
Adapted by Stuart Ross
Original Forever Plaid musical continuity by
Musical continuity and arrangements adapted by Raymond Berg