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Hale Theatre's `Forever Plaid' is a knockout - again

"It's the biggest comeback since Lazarus!" exclaims a gleeful Sparky (Bryon Finch), one of the four, back-from-the-dead Plaids.

While he's referring to the do-op quartet's journey through the cosmos to make its long-postponed debut at the fictional Airport Hilton Fusel Lounge cabaret, he could also be talking about this Hale Centre Theatre revival of the big off-Broadway hit just 18 months after HCT first staged it.You see, the Plaids have been floating around the heavens since Feb. 9, 1964, when their Mercury convertible was creamed by a busload of parochial school girls en route to the Beatles' legendary debut on the "Ed Sullivan Show." The girls survived, but the Plaids - who were en route to their first big gig - were DOA.

But now, 34 years later, thanks to the expanding holes in the ozone and a bunch of other complicated cosmic stuff, they've returned to Earth to give the concert they couldn't give before.

And what a performance!

The intimacy of the Hale Centre Theatre comes about as close to a New York cabaret (thankfully, without the smoke and the booze) as any theater in town. The fast-paced musical revue is bookended by the themes from two romantic movies of the 1950s - "Three Coins in the Fountain" and "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing." In between there are nearly two dozen nifty juke box hits from the "guy groups" of the era.

The Plaids put a lot of "Heart and Soul" into their show, along with "Sixteen Tons," "Gotta Be This or That," a medley of Perry Como tunes, "Shangri-La," "Perfidia," "Moments to Remember" and a hilarious salute to the "Ed Sullivan Show" (to the tune of - what else? - "Lady of Spain.")

Directed by Marilyn Montgomery, who put together almost entirely the same ensemble at HCT 18 months ago, this cast is even more finely tuned than it was in the previous engagement.

The opening night cast included Mark Deitlein as Smudge, the group's ulcer ridden, Tums-popping bass/baritone; Bryon Finch as impish Sparky (baritone/second tenor); David Weekes as Jinx, the painfully shy tenor whose nose bleeds at the mere thought of hitting a high C; and Kenneth Wayne (you know him as Ken Grazier . . . he's changed his name) as second tenor Frankie, who is the group's "in-charge" guy . . . except when he's hyperventilating.

The songs alone, presented one after another, would be reason enough to see "Forever Plaid," but co-authors Ross and Raitt took care to showcase them in the context of a funny and poignant story line.

Providing accompaniment on opening night was Brent Fotheringham, who is understudying for Kelly DeHaan, with Matt Toone on string bass.

HCT's alternating cast includes Dan Morgan, Jerry Allman, Kyle Johnson and Todd C. Russell, with string bassist Marion Smith.

Will audiences go bonkers over this show again?

"No . . . Not Much."