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'Plaid' is melodic return to '60s sound

Four beloved friends: Jinx, Sparky, Frankie and Smudge — - the characters who make up the fictional group called Forever Plaid — in a show with the same name, by Stuart Ross, with musical arrangements — by James Raitt - are back on familiar turf. The group opened last weekend — at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, First and Hargadine in Ashland.

The show plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday as well — as — p.m. brunch matinees Sunday through June 5. OCT originally presented — "Forever Plaid" in 1995. With its mixture of sweetness, nostalgia and — great vocal harmonies it was one of the theatre's most popular offerings. —

"Forever Plaid" is directed and choreographed by Kevin — Hill, a Massachusetts native making his Oregon Cabaret Theatre debut. — Hill has extensive directing and choreographing credits all over the country — including the Fulton Opera House in Pennsylvania, Sierra Rep in Sonoma — and Seacoast Rep in New Hampshire.

"He is the only director I've hired sight unseen," said — OCT artistic director Jim Giancarlo. "And it worked." Giancarlo saw a — video tape of about 10 numbers Hill had directed.

As choreographer for the show, Hill took on responsibilities — usually handled by Giancarlo. Both Hill and Giancarlo come from visual — arts and dance backgrounds. Hill did national tours in "Chorus Line." —

"I love his work," Giancarlo said. "(In the video) I could — see his instincts as a director and I could identify where it was coming — from."

The mythical group Forever Plaid is an all-male, close-harmony, — pop quartet in the tradition of the Four Preps, the Hi-Los, the Four Freshman, — the Crew Cuts and the Four Lads. The music they sing might be called "good — guy pop": "Three Coins in a Fountain," "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," — "Sixteen Tons," "Cry," "Chain Gang," "Catch A Falling Star," "Shangri-La," — "Moments To Remember."

The music is rich with harmony and squeaky clean. It is — the music of a simpler time, pre-dating the Beatles and the wilder explorations — of later 1960's rock 'n roll.

"The characters in the show grew up listening to that — sound," Hill said. They loved to sing and started singing together."

Jinx, Smudge, Frankie and Sparky spent many an hour in — Smudge's basement perfecting their smooth four-part harmonies. They were — sure that their career as a '60's guy group was just getting started when — they landed their first major gig.

On the way to the concert, they were killed in a car crash. — The people in the other car were on their way to see the Beatles on the — Ed Sullivan Show.

Due to expanding holes in the ozone layer, the Plaids — are able to come back for one night only to perform the show they never — got to do in life. Time has stopped for them and they sing the same songs, — in the same style as they did when they were alive 40 years ago.

In recounting the details of the story, Giancarlo pointed — out that the show is more than just a revue. "You get to know them as — characters and relationships," Giancarlo said. "They're four geeky guys, — each with a different medical ailment from asthma and a speech impediment — to a bloody nose."

OCT resident Darcy Danielson is musical director and pianist. — She is joined by Kevin McKern on acoustic bass. Danielson describes the — singing as mostly in the high baritone and low tenor range, with high — highs and low lows.

"The two middle voices have very difficult singing parts," — Danielson explained. "They're sing parts that make absolutely no sense — when sung by themselves."

Hill agreed that the harmonies are very tight, and difficult. — "Jim did a good job of picking four guys who sound good together and who — have never sung together in a quartet," Hill said. And they have to play — instruments they've never played before and two of the actors had to learn — to be fire-eaters.

Jinx is played by Tommy Schoffler, Sparky by Marc Swan, — Frankie by James Drake and Smudge by Chad Jennings. Marc Swan has previously — appeared at OCT as Awesome in both productions of "Snow White & Several — Dweebs" and in "Pageant" where he played Miss Deep South.

"I love the tight harmonies," Swan said. "I listened to — this music when I was younger."

Schoffler has performed at PCPA Theatrefest, The Warehouse — Theatre and Theatre West Virginia. Schoffler's voice is close to counter — tenor. "I like the glory days of Barbershop, and the all male voices," — he said. Growing up, Schoffler listened to the Oak Ridge Boys, country — and gospel music.

Drake and Jennings come to Ashland from Seattle. Both — have appeared at the Fifth Avenue Theatre and the Village Theatre among — others.

"Singing these songs, I've gained an appreciation for — how difficult it is," Drake said. "The notes are very close together." —

Jennings described the music as having "a really great — sound. A sincere sound. It's great to see people come to the show who — grew up with this music."

Set and lighting design are by Craig Hudson, costume design — by Kerri Lea Robbins, sound design by Frank Sullivan and props by Roxanna — Clover. Resident stage manager is Kathleen Mahoney. Assistant lighting — designer is Michael Stanfill.

Tickets are $21 for Sunday matinees; $21 and $23 for Monday, — Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings and $25 and $27 for Friday and — Saturday evenings.

Tickets can be purchased at the box office from 11 a.m. — to 2 p.m. and — to 6 p.m. except Tuesdays (closed) and Sundays (open at — 4 p.m.) or by calling 488-2902. It is also possible to download an order — form from www.oregoncabaret.com which can then be faxed to 488-8795). —

Gourmet dinners and brunch available with advance reservations. — Appetizers, beverages and desserts also available - no reservations needed.