Since it opened Off-Off-Broadway in 1990,
covering popular music a half-century back, was dated.
Being dated is possibly its best quality, and also its paradox. Generally, staying around past its shelf life is a show's kiss of death.
And speaking of death, that's how Forever Plaid begins, with an offstage announcer's tale about the doo-wop boy quartet called the Plaids. In 1964, en route to their first highly visible engagement, at the Airport Hilton, a bus rams them, killing all four.
After the story's told, the four guys emerge through a door in the auditorium of Bristol Riverside Theatre, in their tuxedo pants and ghost-white dinner jackets. They may be dead, but a revival is a revival.
It's a thin frame to hang a doo-wop show on - I find the premise unworkably sad. Stuart Ross' script is not funny to me, except in this production's wacky Ed Sullivan Show reminiscence, and the rest of it is square and hokey, a Boy Scout piece put on by Troop Naïve.
But I'm not going to argue with a winner, which Bristol Riverside calls "perhaps the biggest audience favorite out of 99 previous main-stage presentations" in two decades. Forever Plaid is the first repeat production in that theater's history.
And I'm certainly not arguing with this production - the smooth revival is by Edward Keith Baker, who directed it for Bristol in 2001. Forever Plaid is essentially a revue, and Baker makes the music almost the entire point, aided by choreographer Gregory Daniels early-'60s boy-band shtick.
Neither could do it without the four endearing actor-singers they've brought together. Christopher Zelno as the befuddled, nosebleeding Jinx sings in an impressively wide range, and Richard Rowan gives the wry Smudge a powerful bass; both were in the first Bristol production. Billy Clark Taylor is teddy bear Francis, looking for the perfect chord, and Michael Susko plays Sparky with an all-American smile that cannot hide a spot of vulnerability.
They put out perfectly timed harmony through the 90-minute show, backed by only two instrumentalists - pianist Benjamin VanDiepen and bassist Bob Gargiullo. You can hear how barbershop quartet evolved into doo-wop just by listening to the vocals. The quartet begins with "Three Coins in the Fountain," and by the time they get to a medley of "Sixteen Tons" and "Chain Gang," about 45 minutes later, they're taking the show concert-level.
Written by Stuart Ross, direction and musical direction by Edward Keith Baker, choreography by Gregory Daniels, costumes by Linda Bee Stockton, set and lighting by A. Nelson Ruger 4th. Presented by Bristol Riverside Theatre.
The cast: Billy Clark Taylor (Francis), Michael Susko (Sparky), Christopher Zelno (Jinx), Richard Rowan (Smudge).
Playing at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, through May 13. Tickets: $39-$42. Information: 215-785-0100 or www.brtstage.org.