“FOREVER PLAID,” through Nov. 15, Hale Centre Theatre Jewel Box Stage, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy (801-984-9000 or hct.org); running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (one intermission)
SANDY — Hale Centre Theatre’s new home at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre welcomed patrons for the first time on Sept. 1 with the inaugural performance of “Forever Plaid” on the Jewel Box Stage, which HCT officials named the Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box Stage before the opening night performance after a donation from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation.
The opening of the smaller, proscenium thrust, 467-seat theater serves as a sneak peek of sorts before the entire venue — including the 900-seat theater-in-the-round Centre Stage — opens for “Aida” in November.
And a fairly low-key show like “Forever Plaid” matched the tone of the soft opening of HCT’s new location.
There isn’t much to “Forever Plaid” in terms of plot: After months and months spent practicing in the basement of a plumbing supply store, a four-man doo-wop group named Forever Plaid — or the Plaids for short — land their first big gig at the Airport Hilton cocktail bar, but on their way, their car is hit by a bus and all four men die instantly. In order to make their way out of limbo, the Plaids must perform their entire show before they can cross over to heaven.
With more than 20 musical numbers on the docket, performances of “Forever Plaid” often can feel like little more than a concert. But HCT’s current production successfully infuses personality into the show in a way that is both unique and engaging.
The Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast of the Plaids — with Cameron Garner as Francis/Frankie, Chase Petersen as Smudge, Sean Bishop as Sparky and Scott Sackett as Jinx — brought an endearing quirkiness to their roles that you can’t help but love. Their voices were pure and their harmonies spot-on, and there was a natural ease to their singing.
As their posthumous concert begins, each member of the cast effectively captures the nervousness associated with performing their first big show. But as the show goes on, their confidence soars as they get lost in the music and instead of being trite, the quartet’s attitudes had a genuineness about them.
Garner and Sackett both took turns performing multiple stirring solos with “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby” and “Cry" among the best, and Bishop played Sparky with innocent gusto and near-perfect comedic timing.
But one of the more hilarious moments of the show came from Peterson as Smudge held nothing back in his performance of “Sixteen Tons,” including lanky, jarring, full-body convulsions that had many in the audience roaring with laughter.
It was the small details that elevated HCT’s production — from using everyday objects like a ketchup bottle for percussion to engaging audience members on and offstage in both big and small ways to charming choreography.
One particularly cute moment came as the cast returned after intermission looking for their “lost” pianist. As Sparky walked through the crowd, he raved about the licorice at the concessions stand, handed out a few pieces, then casually and comfortably asked an audience member to take care of the trash.
Director and choreographer Marilyn Montgomery’s choreography was at times simple and other times more complex. Nuanced moves at the beginning that suggest nervousness — including hands flying in faces and a few purposeful missteps — melt away as the show goes on. Among the best numbers was the playful choreography with “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby,” where the Plaids perform with plungers as microphones since that’s the only way they had rehearsed it.
“Forever Plaid” proved to be an interesting choice to open the new Jewel Box Stage. Yes, Casey Udy’s set design with burst chandeliers, bright red curtains and textured columns was beautiful and simplistic, which is exactly what the script calls for. However, such a show doesn’t fully show off all the capabilities and advantages that come from a proscenium stage, which longtime HCT patrons know is a new feature for the theater company.
Regardless, the performance was enjoyable as audiences can’t help but get caught up in the enthusiasm of the Plaids and leave agreeing with Frankie that “nothing on this or any other planet compares with the feeling of being inside a good tight chord.”
Content advisory: “Forever Plaid” does not contain any objectionable language, violence or sexual content but may resonate best with older audiences.