Friday, October 15, 2004
CCHS musical Forever Plaid comes to Carlisle
Michael Johnson was having a little trouble with his Ed Sullivan impression. He tried gamely to mimic the hunch-shouldered, purse-lipped delivery of the legendary "really big shoe" variety hour host as it was demonstrated for him, but he couldn't help looking puzzled.
"Shoe? He really said that?" he asked dubiously.
Johnson can be easily forgiven for his confusion. A senior at Concord-Carlisle High School, he was born about 15 years after Ed Sullivan hosted his last shoe, er, show. But Johnson and three other CCHS students are bringing back the past — not just a hilarious, nostalgic look at the Ed Sullivan show, but the music and tight harmonies of a fifties-era men's quartet, in the musical Forever Plaid. The musical was a smash on Broadway and in Boston, and will be opening in Carlisle next Friday.
Half of the cast members — senior Alex Brewer and Johnson, are from Carlisle, while the other two — senior Travis Minor and junior Dylan Levers, live in Concord. With the cast evenly representing both towns, it seems fitting that the show will be performed in both Carlisle and Concord, the first time this has been done in recent memory. After its opening weekend at the Corey Auditorium on October 22 and 23, the stage crew (which greatly outnumbers the cast itself) will take down the minimalist set, load it into a truck, and move to the CCHS auditorium for the second and final weekend, October 29 and 30.
"We're always looking for opportunities to bring [performances] from the high school over to Carlisle," says Chuck Brown, music and drama teacher at CCHS, and director of Forever Plaid. Although the band and chorus performed at the Carlisle School in the past, Brown says the groups and their audiences are getting too big for the auditorium to accommodate them. "Being from Carlisle, it's very important to me to have a performance here," Johnson stresses. "I remember when I was in middle school, seeing the high school chorus perform [at Corey Auditorium] and it helped launch me into singing. It's important to bring that culture here to the school."
"It's sort of refreshing," agrees Brewer. "The Carlisle audience is cut off a little from things happening at the high school. It may bring some new people to the seats."
Forever Plaid is "about four guys who died, then came back from the dead to do the show they never got to do in life," explains Levers, who plays "Frankie," the neurotic leader of the group.
This show includes a number of familiar tunes from the fifties, like "Catch A Falling Star," "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" and "Three Coins in the Fountain," all sung in tight four-part harmony, accompanied by energetic choreography and hilarious props. All of the cast members — and director Brown — noted that the harmonies they were required to learn were harder to master than they'd expected. Being a member of a four-person cast has other challenges as well.
"You can't goof off at all," stresses Brewer. "And if someone messes up, it's really noticeable."
"You really have to go home and do the work," Levers adds. "It's you up there on the stage and you can't hide. There's no one else singing your part, and you can't hide in the back during the dance numbers. Not that I would do that."
But in spite of the challenges, being in a small cast also has its advantages. "Everybody has a chance to shine," says Levers simply.
For Brewer, playing the role of "Jinx," one of his shining moments comes around the sixth song of the show. A shy character, Jinx is the stepbrother of Minor's character, "Sparky," and has been asked to join the group primarily because he can hit the high notes, not necessarily because he is a born performer. "He's timid at first, but then he breaks out and becomes this crazy crooner," says Brewer. "Then he's more relaxed through the end of the show."
Johnson's character, "Smudge," is reserved and practical, concerned with details and keeping order. "At first, he doesn't want to [perform] after so long, but at the end, he breaks out of his shell and it turns out he's the last one to leave," he says.
Oh, and about that Ed Sullivan number. Introduced by Johnson, it sums up the entire history of the Ed Sullivan show in "three minutes and eleven seconds." What follows is a riotous montage of acts commonly seen on Ed Sullivan during its long run. To sum up, it does not disappoint.
Forever Plaid will be performed at Corey Auditorium in Carlisle at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, October 22 and 23; and on October 29 and 30 at Concord-Carlisle High School. Tickets are $15 each and will be available at the door, or at www.ccpops.org.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito