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FOREVER PLAID

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The boy bands of today have nothing on the fresh, clean-cut male singing groups of the 1950s: The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, The Four Just-About-Anything. Mellow voices blended harmonically on such classics as "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Shangri-La," and others of that era. The nostalgic effect of Stuart Ross' show is extremely palpable, especially when the audience consists primarily of senior citizens, as it does at the Welk Resort in Escondido. They sing quietly along in their seats as they stroll down memory lane, refreshing their acquaintance with the songs of their young adulthood.

The Welk has assembled an extremely talented quartet of performers to flesh out the Plaids, and this production has the audience smiling from beginning to end. It's one of the happiest and most fun theatrical experiences a person can have. The plot is minimal: The Plaids, who were on their way to their first big gig, were killed in a collision with a busload of parochial virgins who were on their way to see the Beatles. It may have been fortuitous, because the British invasion doomed the American singing groups. But now, by heavenly chance, The Plaids have returned to Earth to give the concert they never did in life.

The performers at The Welk blend their voices splendidly under the music direction of Justin Gray and the knowledgeable direction of Larry Raben, one of the original New York Plaids, but each actor creates a distinct character and has a chance to shine in solos. David Humphrey is Frankie, the somewhat-assured leader of the group, given to hyperventilating. His dreamboat good looks add extra clean-cut sex appeal to "Matilda" and "Heart and Soul." Kevin McMahon's beautiful tenor rings clear on "Cry," even while his character Jinx's nostril is clogged with tissue to stop his nosebleeds. The cocky and playful Sparky is wonderfully embodied by Steve Gunderson, who gets to strut his stuff in "Perfidia." Ryan Drummond, playing the nerdy, bespectacled Smudge, looks too frail at first to deliver those bass notes needed for "16 Tons," but he digs down deep and delivers the goods. Gray provides masterful accompaniment on piano and Richard Maloof the same on bass. If you've never seen Forever Plaid, you must. If you've seen it, you must revisit it. Enjoy!

"Forever Plaid," produced by Sean Coogan at the Welk Resort Theatre, 8860 Lawrence Welk Dr., Escondido. Tue-Thu, Sat-Sun, 1:45 p.m.; Tue, Thu., & Sat, 8 p.m. Jan. 6- Mar. 27. $33-36 for performance only, $36-51 with buffet included. (888) 802-7469.

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