It's tempting just to run my 1997 review of Forever Plaid, change the names of the actors, and sprinkle it with some holiday graphics, since that's pretty much what creator Stuart Ross has done with this seasonal edition. The four boys are back from the Great Beyond (killed by a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls in 1963) with their guileless natures and tight harmonies intact, and while it's nice to see them again it's not quite the same. They, too, have aged a decade since their last show, so now Sparky, Jinx, Frankie, and Smudge are being played by mature men (Steve Gunderson, Leo Daignault, Michael Winther, and John-Michael Flate, respectively), making their boyishly sexless qualities seem a bit, well, pathetic. While there is a joke meant to lend an air of manly maturity—one which plays off the title of their closing song, about love being a "long and slender thing"—it rings false from these lads. It also doesn't help that the characters' trepidation about not having a show rehearsed never lets up, an energy-draining convention leading to much whispering and sidelong glances that impede any forward motion.
The singing is, as expected, lovely, and Ross' choreography is a clever as ever. The execution of the latter, however, lacks the incredible tightness that makes it work so well for Plaid ensembles that have worked together longer. The performers etch their characters clearly, with Daignault portraying a fascinatingly phlegmatic Jinx. Gunderson provides the huggy-bear warmth of the group and Flate sweetly conveys that Smudge still has problems with the simplest things, such as telling left from right. Winther's Frankie has apparently abandoned his former dreamboat status and now diplomatically tries to hold things together while not stepping on any toes. They're a formidable quartet.
I'm more than willing to sit through the original repeatedly (and have, as will you, since it's recapped in a quick and funny moment); add the word "holiday," though, and I want some holiday. It takes 40 minutes before a carol makes an inadvertent appearance and a full hour before we really discuss the possibility of a Christmas-themed show. Smudge gets a moment in Act One in which he shows off the model 0set for the Christmas Special they always wanted to do (just like Perry Como), which would intimate that Act Two would be that special. It's not. The special occupies, say, 10 minutes of the second act. Even the set (Neil Peter Jampolis) takes the bland road, being a pleasant little deco-ish construction which is pretty but doesn't convey anything particular to the piece. Save for the two little trees placed in niches in the house, there's little hint of the season or, for that matter, the period.
If you've never seen the Plaids then, of course, by all means do. If you have, though, this is like opening a package beneath the tree to find last year's gift in this year's wrapping.
"Forever Plaid—A Special Holiday Edition," presented by and at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tues.-Thurs. 8 p.m., Sat. 5 & 9 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Nov. 2-Dec. 16. $15-42.50. (626) 356-7529.