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Well, Frankie, Smudge, Sparky and Jinx -- those squeaky-clean ectoplasmic nerds known as the Plaids -- sent aloft their celestial four-part harmonies to adoring multitudes once again recently. I had to elbow through the press on Le Petit's balcony to find a remaining seat. To say the audience loved the show is an understatement.

Certainly, the vocalizing was irresistible. Patrick Mendelson, Mark Weinberg, Bryan Wagar and Brian Rosenberg sung with a seemingly effortless precision that never for a moment dampened their joyful exuberance. And the songs -- a potpourri of pop hits from several decades -- stayed with me for days: "Three Coins in The Fountain," "Undecided," "Moments to Remember," "Perfidia," "Cry," "Rags to Riches," "Love Is a Many Splendoured Thing" and others of that ilk. There was also something lovely about the small-scale accompaniment: piano (Michael Koerber) and bass (Rebecca D'Aigrepont).

I've never quite understood the premise of Forever Plaid. It has something to do with this '50s "guy group" (like the Four Lads or the Four Freshmen) who were killed in a car wreck while on their way to pick up snazzy new plaid dinner jackets for their first "big time" engagement at an airport Hilton cocktail bar. Now, they are stranded in a phantom dimension between here and the hereafter. For some reason, they can only escape into eternity by doing their act for us.

They are goofy, likable, Wonder Bread kind of fellas, like a quartet of goy Woody Allens. Their lack of dignity is so relentless, it could drive a radical feminist theoretician to reconsider the virtues of machoism. But, fortunately, not much time ever passes before they do another song number. When they sing, they are assertive, confident, attractive and fun.

Once again, I must point out that the rest of the audience did not share my discomfort with the boys' cute shenanigans. They loved it when the Plaids took out their orthodontic retainers during songs; when they forgot they had cotton in their noses (to stop nosebleeds); when they wiped off each others' milk-of-magnesia mustaches.

If I failed to share the mood in the auditorium during these funny bits, I spun completely out of orbit during the "serious" moment of the play. It goes like this: The Plaids have suddenly become downhearted. They are about to give up. They will never escape their current limbo. One of them delivers a stirring speech, urging them to regain their courage and sing the finale. "We touched our dream," he says, referring to the moments of exalted harmony they have shared. "Can we please sing our last song and go like Plaids? Please. Please." A tense silence filled the theater. You could hear a few women choke back sobs. You'd have thought Medea had just unveiled her slaughtered children. What can I tell you?

Anyway, this weirdest (to me) of spoofs is a perennial favorite. And under the direction of Derek Franklin and Sonny Borey, this cast did a bang-up job.

The day after I saw Forever Plaid, I drove out to Rivertown Rep to catch The Music Man. There, my already painful feelings of alienation were further intensified. Once again, the house was packed. I had to sit on an extra chair. This time, when the curtain fell, the spectators rose en masse for a standing ovation (a feat all the more impressive for an audience where seniors greatly predominated.)

Now, I have a deep and abiding love of nonsense. Lewis Carroll and the Marx Brothers shatter logic (often with the help of logic) and in doing so, they strike some life-affirming chord in us. Freedom, anarchy, childhood, fun; they give us the key to these magical realms. But nonsense is a very different thing from not-bothering-to-make-sense, and not-bothering-to-make-sense when sweetened with sentimentality makes for a pretty vapid confection. To me, I hasten to add. For, as I say, I was once again a lone pariah in the cheering throngs.

Jimmy Murphy churned out the charm as Harold Hill, a con man who sells a Wells Fargo-load of instruments and costumes to the citizens of a dull turn-of-the-century Iowa town by claiming he's a conservatory professor who will form a youth band, even though he doesn't know a do-re-mi about music. Brandi Cotogno did a credible job as the spinster librarian who converts this sweet-talking heel with her noble, self-sacrificing love. Helen Blanke, Bud Landry, Mat Grau, Casey Leigh Thompson, Reggie Hendry, Joanne Mehrtens and Randy Juneau did yeoman service in their supporting roles, while little David Bologna was a bright spot whenever he appeared.

Chad Talkington's set was tasteful and effective. Alton Geno both directed and choreographed this bucolic fable, which glowed pleasantly at times, but never seemed to really catch fire.

click to enlarge Marian the librarian (Brandi Cotogno) tries to tame - con man Harold Hill (Jimmy Murphy) in Rivertown - Rep's recent staging of The Music Man.
  • Marian the librarian (Brandi Cotogno) tries to tame con man Harold Hill (Jimmy Murphy) in Rivertown Rep's recent staging of The Music Man.


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