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Noble Fool's 'Plaid Tidings' a sweet mix of music and nostalgia
By Leah A. Zeldes | Daily Herald correspondent

Brad Simanski, left, Sean Effinger-Dean, Robert Deason and David Meadows find an original use for plungers while belting out "Sha-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream)" in Noble Fool's "Plaid Tidings."

 

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Published: 11/19/2009 12:02 AM

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"Plaid Tidings"

3 stars

Location: Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles, (630) 584-6342, www.noblefool.org

Showtimes: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 27; additional matinees 2 p.m. Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10 and 10 a.m. Dec. 18.

Running time: 2 hours with intermission

Tickets: $29 to $39 (add $20 for dinner-theater package)

Parking: Free lot

Rating: All ages

"Plaid Tidings" may be just the holiday ticket for your whole family - but only if Grandma and Grandpa are prepared to do some explaining.

The last "Ed Sullivan Show" aired in 1971. The fans who tuned into his "really big shew," and listened to the crooners and harmony quartets who dominated pop music before the spread of rock and roll, are now well over 50.

Can anyone younger really appreciate the nostalgic tribute "Forever Plaid" or its holiday sequel currently on stage at Pheasant Run? Maybe. I sure didn't see any at the Sunday matinee I attended to ask.

During the singalong portion of the show, when a cast member called for "women over 40" to join in, the lady next to me laughed and said, "That's everybody!" If he'd called out to "women over 60," the volume would scarcely have diminished.

"Plaid Tidings," by "Plaid" creator Stuart Ross, brings back The Four Plaids, a guy group whose budding career was cut short when the quartet was broadsided by a busload of Catholic-school students en route to see the Beatles in 1964. In the original musical, the departed harmonizers return to earth to put on the big concert they never got to perform. In this Christmastime reprise, tenors Jinx (Brad Simanski) and Frankie (Sean Effinger-Dean), baritone Sparky (Robert Deason) and bass Smudge (David Meadows) come back in their red-plaid jackets and matching cummerbunds with no idea of the reason they've been sent.

The first act lags a bit while the lovable but dimwitted quartet puzzles over some obvious clues dropped by Rosemary Clooney. Things pick up when they get on with performing a holiday version of their show. Most of the charm of the Plaids is in the reproductions of the closely harmonized music and carefully choreographed gestures of such groups as The Four Aces, The Four Lads, The Four Freshmen and others. Those who love tunes such as "Day-O," "Sha-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)" and "Stranger in Paradise" won't be disappointed. Just don't go looking for a plot.

If you enjoyed "Forever Plaid," you'll likely appreciate Noble Fool Theatricals' production of its sequel. If you didn't see the original, you might like this even more. The follow-up's main flaw is that too many of the gags come straight out of the first musical. The Christmas version of the complete "Ed Sullivan Show" done in three minutes 11 seconds is still funny, but not as hilarious as it was the first time around.

Highlights of new humor include an impassioned soliloquy by Frankie on the heart-wrenching aspects of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman," a bop version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and a medley of backup vocals.

The fresh-faced foursome are sweetly endearing, their voices are good - Simanski and Meadows in particular - and musical director Kenneth Jones brings them together admirably.

The show is fairly secular and includes a few politically correct nods to Kwanzaa, Ramadan and Hanukkah, but the bulk of the songs are either Christmas carols or mid-20th-century pop songs recast with holiday lyrics. It's sweet as plum pudding and every bit as schmaltzy as you'd expect.

Holidays are all about passing on sentimental traditions, though. So take your parents and your kids and let the older generation share their memories with the younger.