That red and green color palette you've been seeing in malls and stores is about to hit the Pittsburgh Cultural District. CLO Cabaret's "Plaid Tidings" kicks off the Christmas-spirit parade of live events in Downtown theaters, including "Elf the Musical" (Nov. 26-Dec. 1), "A Musical Christmas Carol" (Dec. 6-22), "The Nutcracker" (Dec. 6-22) and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Pops (Dec. 12-21).
The "Forever Plaid" musical revue about a 1950s-era boy band returning from the afterlife for one big gig was spun off into "Plaid Tidings" by show creator Stewart Ross. In the holiday-themed version, the guys get a heavenly call from Rosemary Clooney, who charges them with bringing a little harmony back into the world.
Guy Stroman, who directed and choreographed "Forever Plaid" to christen the Cabaret at Theater Square, returns to direct the sequel, which also played the Cabaret in 2007. He originated the role of Frankie for the New York premiere of "Forever Plaid" in 1990 and again in London and Los Angeles.
Here are some of Mr. Stroman's reflections on more than 20 years of "Plaid" tidings.
Question: What makes the Plaids' story right for a holiday theme?
Answer: The story of "Plaid Tidings" finds the Plaids -- Jinx, Sparky, Frankie and Smudge -- returning to Pittsburgh one more time and discovering, through their music and clues from their "celestial" friend Rosemary Clooney, that their purpose in returning is to spread the joy and happiness of the holiday season to their audiences through song and laughter. Their journey back-ends with the Plaids getting to finally do their special holiday show they had always hoped to do in life.
How do each of the four parts fit together as a whole -- in musical harmony and in personality traits?
The style of music in "Plaid Tidings," as well as "Forever Plaid," is the tight, lush, four-part singing that made the music of the "guy groups" such as The Four Lads, The Four Aces, The Hi-Los and others so popular in the '50s and '60s. During the course of this play, audiences get to know these four guys who call themselves Forever Plaid, who idolized those singing groups and their solo musical heroes like Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme.
As the Plaids sing their versions of their heroes' songs, the audience comes to identify with each of the characters individually; they are "us," ordinary people with hopes and dreams and love of music. By singing and working together, each of them shines and succeeds in solos, but they become more than they ever dreamed of by being part of the whole ... just like four lines working in different patterns form a plaid.
Does it get harder to cast young people to do this kind of music, or do they get that this is pioneering guy group stuff?
Once talented musical actors hear this music, even for the first time, they take to it immediately. They always have. The challenge is exciting and thrilling because the play itself functions as a funny and touching exploration of these characters basically performing a concert. They really never leave the stage for the 90 minutes, and not many musicals provided the performing experience that this play does.
The four actors -- Billy Hepfinger, Brandon Lambert, Eric Longo, Quinn Patrick Shannon, and their understudy, Ryan Kearney -- for CLO's production (all from Pittsburgh) have been completely amazing to me in these rehearsals. They have consistently created the music authentically and are wonderful actors. They are an incredible "guy group" already.
Since you originated Frankie, does he still hold a special place in your heart? Do you identify strongly with any of the other Plaids?
When we originally began workshopping "Forever Plaid," we started with three monologues and wonderful arrangements by James Raitt. As we worked together, Stuart Ross wrote material that was closely aligned with our own personalities. So I suppose Frankie still has my heart because Frankie is my heart. I do identify with the other characters because I know how they originated with all the groundwork we did.
Why is it fair to say that Plaid is still trending after all these years?
The premise of "Plaid Tidings" is universal: What would you do if you got a chance to do what you either thought you wanted to do or got a chance to simply live your passion? ... Great music beautifully sung by appealing actors, with tons of laughter and heartfelt honesty, will always be trending.