LOGAN – After six months in a coma, musical theatre is alive and well again in Cache Valley.
In a departure from their tradition of staging superb large-scale musicals, Music Theatre West’s repertory productions of “Forever Plaid” and “The Taffetas” are small-cast shows intended to be pandemic-proof. But the talents on display are huge, the laughs are hardy and the vocal performances are outstanding.
Each show features a quartet of guys and gals, singing in old-fashioned, glorious harmony to provide a nostalgic reminder of simpler times. In true 1950’s style, their musical accompaniment is provided by a classy three-piece combo led by Jay Richards on piano, Robyn Peterson on drums and Jim Schaub on bass.
“Forever Plaid” is a tribute to the clean-cut, close-harmony guy groups that dominated America’s radio airwaves prior to the game-changing British Invasion. Originally performed off-Broadway, the show resurrects four ghostly high-school chums who return from the afterlife for the farewell concert they never performed.
Under the direction of Debbie Ditton, the MTW cast of “Forever Paid” breathes life into mostly forgotten pop music hits of the 1950’s like “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “No, Not Much,” “Rags to Riches” and “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.” Dallin Clark, Landon Weeks, Clifton Richards and Ryan Leonhardt make up the vocal quartet.
Although the vocals in “Forever Plaid” are uniformly excellent, there are still some genuine high points in the production.
Weeks marvelously channels early 1950s pop legend Johnny Ray, recapturing both the falsetto high notes and the emotion of Ray’s trademark over-the-top performance of the hit “Cry.”
Richards pulls a surprisingly resonant bass voice out of his diminutive frame for the Tennessee Ernie Ford hit “Sixteen Tons.” Another standout was Leonhardt’s soulful rendition of “Chain Gang.”
“Forever Plaid” also featured hilarious bits of comedy, including some topical COVID-19 jokes after inviting an audience member onstage to plink out “Heart and Soul” and a manic recreation of a typical episode of the Ed Sullivan variety show.
By comparison, “The Taffetas” is more true to its roots as a New York cabaret revue focusing on fictional hick-town singing sisters catching their big break on a wildly politically incorrect television show.
Without an elaborate back-story to draw upon, its all-female cast must use their charms to build rapport with the audience. Their only sources of comedy are the cheesy choreography and props typically used by musical ensembles of the early 1950’s like “The Mcguire Sisters,” “The Fontaine Sisters” and “The Chordettes.”
Despite those shortcomings, the MTW production of “The Taffetas” works brilliantly, thanks to the skillful direction of Lauren Sidwell and the abundant talents of performers Lotti Sidwell, Alyssa Burton, Kaylyn Taylor Baldwin and Lindsey Kelstrom.
“The Taffetas” features songs — including duets and solos — by various artists of the 1950s, plus some comedic novelty numbers written specifically for the revue.
The score of “The Traffetas” is so jam-packed with pop hits, in fact, that many of them are combined into medleys, which seems a shame given the superb quality of the cast’s vocals performances.
Standout numbers in “The Taffetas” included Ms. Kelstrom beautifully milking “Where the Boys Are” for every available ounce of teenage angst and Ms. Burton sweetly cooing lead on “Johnny Angel.”
Costuming in “The Taffetas” also deserves a tip of the hat for amusing authenticity from the prim pastel dresses to the swirling petticoats to the little white gloves.
Despite the fact that much of the music in “Forever Plaid” and “The Taffetas” was probably unfamiliar to youthful members of the opening night audiences, both shows were enthusiastically received by ample crowds given our current COVID-19 precautionary standards.
Repertory performances of “Forever Plaid” and “The Taffetas” will continue at the Ellen Eccles Theatre in downtown Logan through Saturday, Sept 26.
Evening performances of “Forever Plaid” are slated for Tuesday, Sept. 22, Thursday, Sept. 24, and Saturday, Sept. 26.
Evening performances of “The Taffetas” are slated for Monday, Sept. 21, Wednesday, Sept. 23, and Friday, Sept. 25.
A matinee performance of “The Taffetas” is set for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26.