This year’s summer musical at the Hippodrome will entertain audiences with a sentimental mix of 1950s and ’60s rock n’ roll as well as popular show and dance tunes — all blended with a good dose of humor.
You might think Steven Flaa would get just a little tired of directing Forever Plaid. After all, he has overseen the stage production 16 times at theaters throughout Florida.
That’s a lot of doo-wop and “Day-O!”
And yet, Flaa couldn’t be happier directing the musical for the very first time at the Hippodrome Theatre, where the show opens Friday night after two nights of preview performances.
“I absolutely love the show!” Flaa said following a recent rehearsal. “It’s not just about four guys singing and the great choreography. It’s about their relationship with each other that strikes a chord with the audience.
“People love this show because it has heart.”
There will be eight performances of the show each week throughout June. If the show follows the tradition of the Hipp’s previous summer musicals — such as The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Avenue Q and last year’s The Toxic Avenger — it could turn into a two-month run.
Forever Plaid is about four fresh-faced members of a singing quartet who all die when their cherry-red, 1954 Mercury convertible gets broadsided by a bus carrying Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The play’s somber start, however, quickly turns upbeat when the four clean-cut lads arrive in heaven and eventually decide that the show must somehow still go on posthumously. That backstory sets the stage for the boys to use their angelic voices to sing a cavalcade of songs from the 1950s and ’60s, including “Shangri-La,” Heart and Soul” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”
One of the most entertaining moments in the show is a 3-minute, 11-second homage to The Ed Sullivan Show, complete with spinning plates, an accordionist, jugglers, a viking lady, the Vienna Boys Choir and even Topo Gigio, the adorable talking mouse.
“I don’t understand how you couldn’t like the show,” Flaa said. “The vocal arrangements are stunning. There’s something special about these guys singing together in four-part harmony.”
Pulling it off are The Plaids played by Nick Endsley (Jinx), Matty Colonna (Sparky), Charles Logan (Smudge) and James D. Gish (Frankie). All are performing for the first time on the Hippodrome mainstage except for Gish, who took over the role of Toxie in The Toxic Avenger last summer.
“This show is unique in that the fourth wall that divides the audience from the story is often broken,” Gish said. “The audience is going to feel like it’s part of that story because that division is so muddled. The audience is sort of the fifth Plaid.”
Gish, 21, is the only cast member who hasn’t previously performed in Forever Plaid. This will be the fourth time Endsley, a UCF graduate, has done the show.
“I started in choir music, so this takes me back to my roots with tight harmony singing,” said Endsley, who first performed as the introverted Jinx at the Winter Park Playhouse in 2013. “It has a sort of personal fulfillment for me to go back and sing this style and not pop rock or standard musical theater. It’s totally different.”
As for the Plaids themselves, Endsley added: “It’s goofy, but they’re very real people. They’re very honest.”
Logan likes the fact that each character in the play, despite perfect pitch and rhythm, must overcome a flaw, whether it’s dyslexia, epistaxis (nosebleeds), asthma or a lisp.
“The show is not just a revue of songs by sweet but nerdy guys,” he said. “It also helps point out how our imperfections can be made perfect.”
Colonna, whose Sparky is the comic relief of the Plaids, said the frenetic pace of Forever Plaid show is a challenge for the actors.
“There’s always something you have to think about while you’re doing something while you’re thinking about something else, while you’re dancing or playing some instrument,” he said. “It’s just getting in the groove and making it all muscle memory beyond just the music, lyrics and the rhythms and props.”
He added that the show is intended, more than anything, to give people an excuse to have a good time.
“It’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s too much fun!”
Not to be forgotten are the two onstage band members performing behind the Plaids. Bryan Mercer, a member of the Hippodrome Acting Company who most recently played Horatio in Hamlet, plays the piano. Adam Lishawa, who recently starred in Becky’s New Car, performs on bass.
“This is the first time we haven’t tracked a show in at least 12 years,” said Mercer, who also serves as the Hippodrome’s musical director.
Mercer said the music in Forever Plaid is a strong reflection of the era.
“It’s not too cliche; it’s not too well known,” he said. “It’s a lovely choice of numbers. It’s more about the precision of the blend.”
Flaa, the director, said he once had the honor of working with James Raitt, who did the original arrangement for Forever Plaid when it made its Off-Broadway debut in 1990. Flaa also said the choreography is spot-on from the original show directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross.
“I feel like I’m kind of passing the torch from the original creators,” he said.
Lauren Warhol Caldwell, the Hippodrome’s artistic director, said the theater has performed Forever Plaid once before, in 2000.
“We’ve remounted it for this season,” she said. “Our audience has been asking us to bring it back. It’s nostalgic. It’s a lot of tunes that people recognize. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, no matter how old you are.”
— Noel Leroux
25 SE 2nd Place
Gainesville, FL 32601
Box office: 352.375.4477
Eight performances a week throughout June