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Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 15
Layers of talent: PCPA Theaterfest brings 'Forever Plaid' to life
BY JOE PAYNE
As soon as I was introduced to the quartet of actors portraying the fictional group The Plaids in PCPA Theaterfest’s upcoming production of Forever Plaid, the actors couldn’t keep from singing.
“You’re from the Sun?” said Jeff Parker, who plays Frankie. “You mean, like, ‘Here comes the sun!’”
As soon as Parker intoned the iconic Beatles melody, his comrades joined in unbidden with four-part harmony, a talent they have had to employ and perfect for this show. Forever Plaid is about a 1960s era boy band, of the doo-wop harmony flavor, that was killed tragically on the bus ride to their first big gig. Now, in a kind of magic, musical afterlife limbo, the group reflects on its short-lived career and has a chance to perform the show that never was.
The four actors PCPA called in to play The Plaids have jumped into their roles with gusto. When interviewing the four, it was hard to tell whether they were speaking as themselves or as the members of The Plaids. They’ve certainly gotten used to speaking as The Plaids, due to the structure of the show.
“There is a concept called the fourth wall in theater where in some plays you pretend the audience isn’t there and so you are in this strange reality, but that doesn’t exist in this play,” Parker said. “We are right there with the audience, and we can communicate directly with them.”
This approach is necessary to the story because it’s about The Plaids and by The Plaids. The four actors—with baritone Kyle Smith as Sparky, bass Richie Ferris as Smudge, lead Parker as Frankie, and high tenor Nick Tubbs as Jinx—are the only actors on stage throughout the play. They are accompanied by pianist Mark Robertshaw and bassist Brian Lanzone, but the musicians have no speaking parts.
“Since we are the only four actors, we are on stage 99 percent of the time,” Ferris said. “So, it’s just us. We all sing every number, and we are all reliant on each other.”
The idea of working together, in harmony, is one that not only pervades the play, but has also resonated throughout all of the cast, crew, and production team. Erik Stein, veteran actor and director of Forever Plaid, is used to performing on the stage at PCPA. But directing has allowed him to collaborate differently than a single actor would on this production.
“I like to think of myself as a sculptor when I direct,” he said. “My job isn’t to tell them what to do; my job is to stand on the outside and watch what they bring, and mold it a little bit. I tell all the actors they need to bring the clay, they need to put it on the table, and the more shaped that clay, the better.”
The quartet playing The Plaids has spent plenty of time with Stein working on telling Forever Plaid in the best way possible. The actors have also been collaborating with choreographer Katie Wackowski on the stage moves they make together. And the four have paid especially close attention to the music in the show, particularly their vocal blend.
“At the root of this show, the most important thing is the music,” Ferris said. “Ultimately, what is important is the sound between us. It’s very much in the doctrine of this show—that it is pure and holy, the music that we make together.”
Ferris and Tubbs have experience singing together in an a cappella group from UCLA, Ferris explained, that includes much repertoire similar to that of The Plaids. With low, moving baselines by Ferris, a sturdy baritone by Smith, the powerful lead by Parker, and the high and delightful accented tenor of Tubbs, the four singers can create something greater than each individual.
“I think the heart of the show is about harmony,” Parker said. “It’s about us finding harmony as a group; for some of the characters, finding harmony within themselves, and relating to the audience and finding the space where you have this big bubble of sound and connection.”
It’s not just the theme of harmony that has made Forever Plaid an off-Broadway favorite since it came out in 1990. The music and songs arranged by writer Stuart Ross and musical continuity supervisor James Raitt completely exemplify The Plaids’ time and genre, which held the art of vocal harmony high on a pedestal for all to enjoy.
“I find harmony so interesting,” Stein said, “because you have four people singing four notes, but when it’s the right four people and the right four notes, these overtones appear, notes that are not being sung are heard.
“And I know there is a scientific reason for that,” he continued. “However, I am glad I don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about that because I think it’s magical. I don’t know how it happens, and I don’t want anyone to tell me how it happens, but I am thrilled when it does.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne is keeping his scientific knowledge of overtones to himself. Contact him at email@example.com.