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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 2, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
From left, Terry Howell, Michael Pa'ekukui, Andrew Meader
and Andrew Sakaguchi star in "Forever Plaid."

Latest ‘Plaid’ engaging

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


MAYBE it's Andrew Sakaguchi's direction of the show. Maybe it's the cast. Whatever the explanation, Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Forever Plaid" seems much more substantial than the version staged three years ago in Waikiki. Same story, different experience.

The Plaids are a fictitious third-rate pop "harmony group" killed in a freak accident while driving to their first big engagement in 1964. Due to a unique set of cosmic circumstances, they're back on earth so they can do the big show they never got to do in 1964.


Bullet "Forever Plaid": At Manoa Valley Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays through March 26. Tickets $25 general, $22 for students and seniors, under 25 $10. Call 988-6131.

The ambience of the Waikiki production suggested the creators of the show, Stuart Ross and James Raitt, felt the romantic lyrics and beautiful melodies of pre-rock American pop didn't have enough substance to entertain a modern audience. The songs had to be played for laughs.

The MVT production is a likewise a musical comedy but with a sharper focus on themes of character and friendship. Sakaguchi directs, choreographs and performs as Smudge, the Plaid with the queasy stomach. He's also one of two veterans of the Waikiki version of "Plaid." His interpretation is the more appealing.

Sakaguchi's band mates are Michael Pa'ekukui (Sparky), Andrew Meader (Frankie) and Terry Howell (Jinx). Pa'ekukui's animated expressions add mischief to several comic bits; his success at recovering from a blown line on opening night added extra laughs.

Jinx is prone to nosebleeds at inopportune times. All four suffer from stage fright and a penchant for blurting out mild double entendres, but when Frankie rhapsodizes on the spiritual magic of hitting perfect four-part harmonies we see the Plaids not as geeky well-intentioned nerds but as earnest pilgrims seeking that moment of harmonic rapture.

Capturing the spirit of the story, the Plaids are pretty bad on their first few numbers. Maybe they were fortunate to die before they realized their lack of talent. Harmonies and choreography improve until it seems they could have been contenders if only American pop hadn't been swept under by rock 'n' roll and the Beatles.

Howell stops the show with a powerful rendition of "Cry" delivered in the style of pop idol Johnnie Ray. Sakaguchi stars in a comic blending of "16 Tons" and "Chain Gang," and takes over the piano when a union pianist abruptly goes on break and leaves the Plaids stranded in mid-show.

The quartet's spoof of "The Ed Sullivan Show" exceeds what such a group could do in real life, but makes fine comic theater, as does a segment in which the Plaids reminisce about the times they'd rehearse with plumbers' helpers as a substitute for microphones.

Presented as a one-act show, "Forever Plaid" moves smoothly. The Plaids get support from musical director Melina Lillios (piano); and Ryan Hotoke (the other veteran of the 1997 show) and Kevin Leong alternate nights on bass.

Karen Archibald (sets) has created an attractive, slightly seedy lounge for the Plaids' big show. D. Scott Woods (lighting) and Jason Taglianetti (sound) share credit for environmental effects.

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