DVD Review: “Forever Plaid: The Movie”

Written by DVD Reviews, Film

Can a male harmony group that was snuffed out mid-coda come back to Earth and make the jump to movies?

In 1963, a semi-professional harmony group was on their way to their first big gig, when their car was slammed into by a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. The harmony group was killed instantly but, through some strange miracle, is given the chance to come back to present-day Earth and perform the show they never got to do when they were alive. That, in a nutshell, is the opening premise for Forever Plaid,  a show that has played Off-Broadway and around the world for over 20 years. Technically, it’s just an excuse to meet these four lovable losers and hear them sing close-harmony classics like “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Perfidia,” and “Rags to Riches”. In 2009, the show was taped and then shown in movie theaters across the country to help celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Forever Plaid: The Movie features Sparky (Larry Raben), Smudge (David Engel), Jinx (Stan Chandler), and Frankie (Daniel Reichard) as the four Plaids. These first three guys have been involved with the show since its original performance 20 years ago, and Reichard was from the original cast of Jersey Boys, so these guys certainly know what they’re doing. The three original cast members look and sound just as good as they did way back when, and Reichard fits in well with them. The singing is wonderful and the characters are endearingly awkward, whether they’re cajoling Jinx (a guy prone to nosebleeds when he gets nervous) to sing the beautiful “Cry,” or attempting to perform “the entire Ed Sullivan Show in three minutes and eleven seconds.” As a former two time Sparky myself in our local community theatre (Forever Plaid in 2002 and the sequel Plaid Tidings in 2008), I have very strong feelings for this show and was thrilled to see this cast perform it.

With all that being said, I felt that the camera work was overdone. It didn’t seem like ten seconds went by without the shots going from a group shot to a close up to swooping down from the top to filming the audience behind the guys. This was a bit of a surprise considering the movie was directed by Stuart Ross, who conceived the original production. It’s almost like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to film this like a concert or a movie. I personally would have preferred this to be done more like a concert film, staying with a shot of the group most of the time with occasional close ups when needed. But if they wanted to go the movie route, they should have gone all out, showing Sparky as a kid listening to old records or seeing stepbrothers Sparky and Jinx watching The Ed Sullivan Show with their parents to go along with the stories they tell during the show. I think the show really works best without fancy camera tricks, just giving it to the performers to let them do their thing.

Extras on this DVD include a documentary about how the show came together 20 years ago, and how it was put together as a movie, as well as trailers and commercials for the movie and for the original show. As great as these inclusions are, I regret what was left out. When this was presented to movie theaters, there was a live post-show featuring the Plaids singing some songs not in the movie and even inviting Carol Channing up to sing with them. When I asked a representative of New Video as to why this footage wasn’t included on the DVD, I was told it was because of royalty costs. It’s still a shame that this stuff was left out, because it was great, although you can see some of that footage here. (I heard a rumor that the version of the DVD that was offered for pledging to Public Television stations has this footage on it, but that’s unconfirmed. The same source told me that an upcoming Blu-Ray release would have the footage, but my contact with the company says a Blu-Ray of the movie isn’t planned at this time.)

As a final assessment, I love this show and I do recommend it for the Plaids’ performances of these classic songs. I just wish I would have liked the way it was put together better.
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