SANDY — Hale Center Theatre has opened a part of their new Jewel Box theater in Sandy, and the company has chosen the jukebox musical Forever Plaid as its premiere production. For me, going to the Salt Lake County Hale (which, because of their new facility in Sandy, we probably can’t call “the West Valley Hale” any more) is like eating a peanut butter sandwich: sweet, reliable, and I’ll be satisfied afterward for about 30-40 minutes. There is nothing bold or surprising happening with that company, and they produce very little heart-rending or thought-provoking theatre. It was unsurprising, therefore, that Hale chose to go with this safest of all safe musicals for its opening at Jewel Box.
Stuart Ross‘s Forever Plaid is familiar territory to Utah audiences. It tells the story of a 1950’s doo-wop group whose rise to fame was cut short when they were killed in a car accident. Now they spend their time in the afterlife performing concerts in hopes to pass on to the other side. Well-known songs, accessible humor, and crisp, tight chords are the key players in what makes this show a favorite since its inception in 1989.
When I attended the premiere performance of a premiere production in a new space, there was a litany of speeches that preceded the production. As it was, the audiences was seated for half an hour before curtain, listening to one person with money say something else about another person with money to commemorate the opening of the new theater. It grew rather tiresome, and I feared it would taint my experience with the actual production, but it did not. The four actors of Forever Plaid were churned out on a revolving stage, and I was able to forget the pontificating and enjoy the familiar tunes and buoyant acting.
The new Sorenson Legacy Theater seemed determined to show off their lighting capabilities, and the design by Joshua Roberts took some getting used to. In the first number, hanging orbs ebbed with dizzying effulgence, distracting from the music and making me think there was perhaps a malfunction. Once I got used to the veritable fireworks display overhead, it was sometimes lovely.
Forever Plaid relies more on singing than acting, and that was certainly prevalent in the performers. All were gifted singers, crafting chords with tightness and tenacity and singing their solos well. My favorite voice onstage was that of Scott Sackett as Jinx, a high, silvery tenor with a sweet, wavering speaking voice that was immediately endearing. I tend to enjoy basses and baritones, but I was surprised and delighted by his voice and would like to hear him sing again. Cameron Garner was a competent ringleader as Francis, delivering his dialogue clearly and colorfully, and both Chase Petersen and Sean Bishop were charming in their respective roles as Smudge and Sparky. The script is written as an ensemble piece, so no one actor is meant to shine out from the rest, and the four blended well not only in singing but in performance. My favorite number for the four was “Perfidia,” where the cute, bouncy choreography and “ugly American” pronunciation of Spanish lyrics made me giggle quite a bit.
During the speeches made for the opening of this smaller stage (the grand stage will open with the November production of Aida), one feature of the space stood out: each chair of the house is constructed with technology that enhances the operation of hearing aids, meaning that every line of dialogue will be crisp and clear to those with auditory disabilities. I thought that was a pretty neat utilization of the vast funds available to the Hale company and well worth noting in the opening performance.
A great deal of work was in the staging, as a show with four men singing has the danger of becoming static and boring. Director Marilyn Montgomery did a fine job of leading her four actors around the stage in different configurations and varied pacing for a vibrant and colorful show that I would view again. Indeed, if I could sum the thing up in one sentence, it would be, “Golly, those white boys sure are cheerful.”