Perfect harmony

Forever Plaid

By Stuart Ross
Arrangements by James Rait
Directed by Brian J. Swasey
Musical direction by Jeffrey Campos
Astoria Performing Arts Center (
The Greek Cultural Center
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Byrne Harrison

There’s really not much of a story in Forever Plaid. A 1960s vocal harmony group, killed on the way to pick up the tuxedos for their first big gig at the Airport Hilton, gets one chance to come back and give the performance of their (after) life. That’s basically it.

So why is this such a fun show? And why do people leave with huge smiles on their faces?

In the case of APAC’s production, it was a convergence of all the right elements. First among these was the cast, featuring Frederick Hamilton, Shad Olsen, Ryan J. Ratliff and Joseph Torello as the singing group, Forever Plaid (or the Plaids, for short). With golden voices and a chemistry that made it seem the four were lifelong friends, they were exactly what Forever Plaid called for. Next was the solid script, full of silly jokes, send-ups of the Ed Sullivan Show, an homage to Perry Como, and familiar popular songs of the day (“Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” “Sixteen Tons”). There was also the support of two talented musicians, Jeffrey Campos (who was also the musical director) on piano and Byrne Clay on bass. Next was Ryann D. Lee’s set, which was simple but attractive, and worked very well with Erik J. Michael’s lighting. Together they created the exact sort of place the Plaids would have been most comfortable singing. Finally, there was director Brian J. Swasey, who assembled all the pieces and made them work together like there was no effort involved at all.

Since this is a character-driven musical revue, most of the kudos belong to the actors. Frederick Hamilton, with his boy-next-door charm, shone as the eager, yet sometimes overwhelmed leader of the Plaids. Shad Olsen and Ryan J. Ratliff as step-brothers Sparky and Jinx, had marvelous chemistry and excellent comic timing. Ratliff, in particular, had a good sense of physical comedy and a beautiful voice. Olsen, whose charming smile endeared him to the audience, also had a solid voice that worked so well with the lovely harmonies. Joseph Torello’s strong bass added a great deal of depth to the songs, and he truly brought the off-beat and quirky Smudge to life.

Thanks to the small house at the Greek Cultural Center, the actors were able to create a rapport with the audience. In turn, the audience took a shine to the boys and really wanted them to succeed. Judging by the applause and ovation at the end of the show, Forever Plaid did just that.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison