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'Plaid Tidings' is a holiday gift from the past

In a popular tune, the holidays are called "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." And "Plaid Tidings," now playing at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, celebrates that merry sentiment.

The show features a return-to-Earth visitation from a 1960s guy group called The Plaids: Frankie, Sparky, Jinx and Smudge. Four close friends who specialize in close harmonies, The Plaids died in a crash back in 1963 when their car was hit broadside by a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles make their first appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show."

That appearance signalled the "English Invasion" of rock bands whose new style made groups like the Plaids sound very old-fashioned. But unabashed old-fashionedness is something The Plaids still champion. Much of the charm of "Plaid Tidings" is in returning to that innocent world again, if only for a moment. It was perhaps the last time when parents and their children listened to the same music, and each other.

"Plaid Tidings" is full of golden oldies and holiday tunes, sung with delightfully lush harmonies and interesting musical arrangements. As is often the case in these kinds of Cabaret shows, each singer gets a solo, giving him a chance to shine.

We get to hear Danny Webber's glorious bass notes in "Let it Snow" and hear his rich baritone in "The Most Wonderful Time/Merry Christmas" medley. David Shane as Jinx has a lot of fun with his wild medley, "Besame Mucho/Kiss of Fire." Adam Corcoran busts a move in his hip-hop number, "'Twuz The Nite B4." Marc Swan gets most of the crooning numbers, including "Hey There" and the tribute to Perry Como, "The Christmas Cardigan." Perry even makes a TV appearance, giving the boys a chance to fulfill their dream of performing backup for their idol.

Director Todd Nielsen has given his talented cast a lot of funny bits and clever staging to work with. There's nothing quite like seeing "Sh-Boom" performed with long-handled bathroom plungers instead of microphones on stands. But Nielsen has made sure that the touching moments don't get lost in the silliness.

These guys were unpopular nerds when they were alive and turned to each other and their music to bring harmony and companionship into their lives. They look out for each other and try to uphold The Plaid way of life in a world that has moved in a different direction.

Each character has his own "thing." Jinx suffers from nosebleeds whenever he sings too high. When he gets nervous, Smudge's stomach starts acting up. Frankie has to rely on his atomizer whenever his asthma starts to get the best of him. And Sparky has to be reminded to stop chewing gum when he's performing. We believe in these guys and wish them well on their mission — which, as it turns out, is to wish us well.

Set and lighting designer Craig Hudson has the stage surrounded in red and green plaid, a motif that is echoed in the guys' clothes and on the Cabaret's tablecloths and menus.

Kerri Lea Robbins' costumes add just the right touch of nostalgia with a hint of zaniness. Musical director John Taylor, on piano, and Bruce McKern, on the string bass, provide the musical accompaniment. It's always a joy to hear Taylor, and the show provides him with a few opportunities to play on his own. He also has a chance to get into the act with the boys, as does McKern.

The evening closes with seven songs in a row featuring the whole group. The harmonies flow like a gentle rain washing away your cares and the years. "Plaid Tidings" is a most wonderful time at the Cabaret.

"Plaid Tidings" will play at 8 p.m. nightly and 1 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 31, except Nov. 22 and 27 and Dec. 4, 11, 18, 24 and 25.

For tickets, see www.oregoncabaret.com, or call 488-2902.

Reach Arts and Entertainment Editor Richard Moeschl at 776-4486, or e-mail rmoeschl@mailtribune.com.

Adam Corcoran, David Shane, March Swan and Danny Webber appear in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's production of 'Plaid Tidings.' - Christopher Briscoe