REVIEW: Mill Town Players’ ‘Plaid Tidings’ is Perfect Yuletide Insanity

The Plaids celebrate Christmas in “Plaid Tidings.” Photo by Escobar Photography, LLC

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Continuity is a winsome asset for Mill Town Players. Chameleons Will Ragland and Shane Willimon dazzled Pelzer audiences in “Greater Tuna” and reunited a year later for “A Tuna Christmas.” Country and rockabilly chanteuse Katie Rockwell gave an encore engagement of her sold-out “Always…Patsy Cline.” And now, adorned in their Sunday best tinsel and tartan, MTP present the return of the return of The Plaids, that harmonious and heavenly teenage quartet of clean-cut, apple pie America crooners who perished on September 9, 1956 – the day Elvis appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

If you didn’t see “Forever Plaid,” don’t fret because These lads  – Drew Whitley is back as the group’s asthmatic leader Frankie, Aaron Pennington as the shy nose-bleeder Jinx, and Dalton Cole as Smudge, the basso Buddy Holly lookalike. The spry Mark Spung-Wiles, replaces Johnny Culwell (who is in graduate school), as the class clown Sparky – do a recap of some of the 1950s tunes they performance before. We discover they perished in an accident with busload of girls (all who survived without a scratch) on their way to see Elvis’ performance.

At first, these fine young lads aren’t sure why they’ve returned to Earth for another posthumous concert, but a phone call (on a cell phone that is foreign technology to these guys) from the heavenly Rosemary Clooney and cryptic messages about their mission in the historic Pelzer Auditorium, lead to a Christmas extravaganza that whizzes by like a VHS tape on fast forward, and is mesmerizingly entertaining thanks to this young, but seasoned quartet of crooners and performers, who give far more than the material  written by Stuart Ross hands them.

“Plaid Tidings” s less focused on the music of an era than “Forever Plaid,” which honored a generation of compositions from the great American songbook from the likes of Sammy Cahn, and close-harmony groups such The Four Aces and The Four Freshmen.

“Plaid Tidings” focuses on specific moments in time ,all sprinkled among and within (through a massive amount of song arranging) outrageous Christmas offerings in mash-ups or breakneck medleys of one-line choruses that cover half the classic catalog in one song.

The script isn’t as charming gets bogged down at times with cosmic gibberish – restoring earth’s hormonal balance, lighting and thunder from heaven, and hidden notes from pop singer Rosemary Clooney (also the aunt of George Clooney) that the boys repay the favor with a bouncy “Mambo Vitaliano,” and possessed by the Christmas spirit. But the jokes are naughtier here; the pacing is insanely exhausting as these fellows grip us with their enthusiasm, energy and vocal callings.

Pennington (fresh off a successful turn as Potiphar in Greenville Little Theatre’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) is a sure-fire scene stealer and consummate comedic talent from his character’s cotton-up-the-nose gag, bizarre facial expressions, or finding himself stuck in a leg split during a number, he displays an ebullient degree of physicality.

Ad does Spung-Wiles, who seamlessly assumes his role, with stellar spark and movement, being the best dancer in the cast, always delivering his jokes with sass, or a squeal as he does in a feverishly festive “Fever,” made famous by Peggy Lee.

Whitley (recently “Jesus” in “Godspell” at Foothills Playhouse) is an agile professional in top vocal form and sells probably the two best numbers in the show: a Calypso Christmas “Matilda” singalong  (“She take my money and go Christmas shopping”) with some maracas and hand-held bell assistance from two ladies from  the audience which on this evening included frequent MTP artist and good sport Kim Morgan), and infused a dose of hilarious and truly out-of-this-world hip-hop with the gang in a Beastie Boys-style madcap take on the classic story, “Twuz the Night B4 Christmas.” Bravo dudes!

Cole is as steadfast and charming as we last saw him (just coming off a heralded run as Gomez Addams at the Market Theatre Company), whether reaching down for those booming bass lines or his Ed Sullivan, when The Plaids perform a dreamy gig as Perry Como’s backup singers (replete with a life-size cardboard version of the star in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

From their percussion toilet plungers to riotous three-minute-and-eleven-second version of “The Ed Sullivan Show”  as they play Rockettes, the Chipmunks, jugglers, poodle trainers, and The Vienna Boys Choir, this variety show’s stars take this show beyond the astral plane for almost 90 glorious minutes –  all in four-part heavenly harmony.

Again retiring the marvelous proceedings s is musical director /accompanist and tuxedo clad musical master Chase McAbee on the ivories on a pearly gate-white baby grand, joined by John Brookshire on upright bass.

And as a bonus, Kim Granner designed the star-studded surprise set and props, including especially-amusing cutouts in the Ed Sullivan segment).

Tickets are only $12, with discounts for seniors, military, and students, and can be purchased online at www.milltownplayers.org, by calling (864)947-8000, or at the door.

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