Mark Clements, artistic director of the Milwaukee Rep, has a great big wheelhouse.
We all know what a wheelhouse is. In baseball, itâ€™s the pitch in the perfect place for the batter. In life, itâ€™s a place or something where you have a wonderful advantage and where you are very comfortable.
Clements has a huge wheelhouse. He can stage a play as serious as "The Diary of Anne Frank," and as musically and technologically adventurous as "Ragtime."
And he has hit his stride in the intimate setting of the Stackner Cabaret.
No further evidence is needed than to let the smooth joy of "Forever Plaid" wash over you. The trip down memory lane opened Sunday night and will run through the end of December.
In the last two seasons, Clements has staged some of the most exciting musical theater ever seen in Milwaukee at the Stackner.
Last season, he hit home runs with "Gutenberg! The Musical," "Blues in the Night" and the breathtaking "Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash."
With "Forever Plaid," he has grabbed hold of a play that has been around for over two decades. Itâ€™s been performed everywhere from Off-Broadway to Off-Podunk, USA with every city and college in between.
Most often the show plays almost more like a concert. The story of a four-boy harmony group that was killed and then comes back to earth serves as a shell around some timeless songs.
Director JC Clementz (we may overdose on people with that last name, no matter how they spell it) has decided to infuse this play and story with much more humor than you normally see in productions. Â
Make no mistake about it. This play is very, very funny. The number that capsulized the Ed Sullivan show in just over three minutes is about as humorous as it gets. The audience roared.
But this show is about the music and the tight harmonies. Adam Estes, Anand Nagraj, Nate Lewellyn, who was born in Milwaukee and our own resident man for all seasons, Paul Helm, blend like theyâ€™ve been doing this for years rather than just a few weeks. Theyâ€™ve got the look, the sound and the Temptation Walk steps down perfectly.
Their voices, under the music direction of Dan Kazemi, a New York-based associate artist of the Rep, do more than justice to this music.
And what music it is. Songs written by Sammie Cahn and Jule Styne, Merle Travis, Sammie Fain, Al Jolson and Paul Chaplin, Sam Cooke, Lennon and McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Hoagy Carmichael.
At one point in this play, one of the characters talks about "a cloud of warm sound."
When you start your show with "Three Coins in a Fountain" and end it with "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," the audience chills seem to run forever.
The only question about this play is whether people under, say 40 or 50 will respond to it. Sure, there is a Lennon and McCartney song, but this version of "She Loves You" bears almost no resemblance to the original.
The Ed Sullivan Show ended in 1971. "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" topped the charts in 1955. Â "Three Coins in a Fountain" won an Oscar in 1954.Â
A part of me thinks that you need at least some memory of this music to appreciate the show. Oh, anyone can appreciate the awesome skill and comedic talent of Helm, who steals the show, if it has been stolen.
But to get drenched in the romance and the singular joys of love lost, found and lost again, you may have to be a person of a certain age.
That certainly doesnâ€™t mean you should ignore this if you are a Generation X or Y, or whatever. If you like great music and lots of laughs, "Forever Plaid" delivers with a "cloud of warm sound."
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Jan. 31, 2015
"Once On This Island" is a rollicking fairy tale that takes place on a fictional Caribbean island. The production at Skylight Music Theatre just doesn't capture the magic that you expect.
Published Jan. 30, 2015
It's the longest running musical in history, by far, and a troupe in Walker's Point is staging a production of "The Fantasticks" that is as good as the name implies. With great music, it's easy to see why this show has been around and stood the test of time.
Published Jan. 29, 2015
The group, Preserve Our Parks, engaged in a campaign to halt construction of the proposed Couture project, a 44-story building that will add to life at the lakefront. The group is using ancient constitutional provisions to try and stop the project.
Published Jan. 27, 2015
Gary Andersen, who, surprisingly, left the University of Wisconsin for Oregon State, complained that the high academic standards in Madison made it too hard for him to recruit the kind of players he wanted.
Published Jan. 25, 2015
Nothing entertains like a great love story with a murderous ending, and that's what you get in "The Kreutzer Sonata" at Renaissance Theaterworks. The one man play starring James Pickering is a story you won't soon forget.
Published Jan. 24, 2015
The Milwaukee Rep opened "Good People" Friday night and gives it a spectacular production, looking at where we come from, where we go and how we either get there or don't.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sources have confirmed that Gov. Scott Walker has decided to include the "jock tax" revenues in his budget to help fund the new arena in downtown Milwaukee.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Cyndi Przybylski is a software engineer at Rockwell, but she has been bitten by the theater bug. She is taking a scientific approach to it all, realizing that she has a lot to learn and seems ready to learn it.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sam Shepard's "True West" is a tale of brothers, joined by blood and driven apart by everything else in their lives. Alchemist Theater gives it a daring and bold production until the end of the month.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
Capt. Dave Salazar of the Milwaukee Police Department supervises the intelligence gathering efforts to try and keep terrorist activities at bay. It's a job that requires lots of cooperation from various agencies, and from the general public.