The lovely thing about living in the Twin Cities is not only seeing a ton of theatre, but also seeing the abundance of holiday-themed shows that open. A few weeks ago I saw my first one of the year which was How the Grinch Stole Christmas at The Children's Theater and now I've seen my second. I absolutely love the holidays so I'm thrilled I was able to see another one joyful holiday production at Lyric Arts in Anoka, Minnesota. Lyric Arts is not only doing one but TWO-holiday shows. Lyric Arts is producing Coney Island Christmas (which runs through December 17) and also Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, which is the one I saw.
This was a very interesting show. Let me preface by saying it was delightful but unlike many shows I'm used to, especially musicals. The musical's plot is easy enough to understand. Francis, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky are sent back to Earth from heaven on a secret mission. Through out the first act they don't know what their mission is as they get heavenly clues from up above. The sing various hits however clues from above let them know they aren't on the right track. They finally realize that they were sent to fulfill the needs of a holiday season by putting on a holiday show. I mention this a lot, but it's nice to see a show that doesn't involve thinking. The plot is simple and cute but the talent is huge and marvelous.
The cast is a quartet of men, all with their own special talents and shining moments. Starting with Christopher Vance, as Jinx. Christopher, a graduate of Viterbo University, I've seen perform before ironically enough. His performance as Abraham in Altar Boyz was great and it wasn't until after the show that I realized I had seen him before. His characterization as a nervous stage fright filled and shy performer was perfection and had the audience giving plenty of "Awww" through out the show. Especially when he broke through his stage fright and sang the lead in "Besame Mucho/Kiss of Fire."
Next is Jake Speikers who played Sparky. Speikers is another actor I've seen perform before in a production of The Little Mermaid as Sebastian. He was peppy and a joy to watch on stage in that production and he didn't disappoint this time. Speikers is completely in his element during this production with his aggressively dynamic portrayal of Sparky. His funny one liners and sides to the audience often had me fanning myself with my program cause I was laughing so hard. Although what really impressed me the most was his voice. They all had fantastic voices and each had something different about them. Speikers has the type of musical theatre voice that fills a room, hits the back row and cuts through the audience. It's strong and lively through out the entire production, never dropping.
Armando Harlow Ronconi plays the worrier, Smudge, wonderfully. The character of Smudge is always worrying about the props, the show and what is going to come next. Harlow knows exactly what he is doing through this show and portrays this character with a perfect ten. Harlow is strong in all three areas of performing. His dancing is great and still stays in check with his character. I've seen Harlow perform in Lyric Arts previous summer production Anything Goes and he brings his tap abilities to this production. Now being the only character that taps, you'd think it'd be a short and fun dance but that is not the case. Harlow comes out with a powerful and advanced technique filled routine. It was one of the handful of moments that made me want to stand up mid-show and look at everyone in the audience to say "THAT IS NOT EASY! BRAVO!" Harlow is solo stage during one of the most beautiful moments of the show and it happens pretty early on. He recalls back when the Plaids were little that they had a dream to have their own holiday special. While he performs the monologue, he shows a tiny set of what their holiday special set would look like. Harlow shines through this moment and tenderly sings a stripped down version of "The Most Wonderful Time / Merry Christmas."
Last, but certainly not least by a long shot, is Maxwell Emmett Ward who plays the leader of the Plaids, Francis. Francis is the caretaker of the group and by far the most confident in his abilities and Ward does this wonderfully. He is by far the most compassionate about the music and the group. Ward has an amazing voice and ability to make the audience laugh. Next to Sparky, he is by far the funniest of the group. Francis has asthma and Ward relishes in the scenes where he gets to play this bit up. During his solo scene, he monologues about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and how it's a horrible story about bullying. This was by far the funniest scene in the entire production and Ward plays is perfectly without going too over the top. His often high pitched rants had the entire audience roaring with laughter. Ward is exceptionally outstanding in this role and was born to play it.
As a quartet these men are fabulous. They really know how to share the stage with each other and let everyone have their moment. While one is shining, the others provide support without taking the spot light through beautifully sung harmonies and complimenting choreography. They have gorgeous voices, charming personalities and amazing on stage chemistry. Their voices are led by the onstage "band." Bradley Beahen plays piano (and was also the musical director) and plays next to Shannon Van Der Reck on an electric bass. Yes. That's right. An electric bass. Pretty bad (b)ass if you ask me. They even have a few bits through out the production that are pretty funny.
Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings is a delightfully charming and talent filled production. Lyric Arts picked a winner this season and casts it perfectly for the holidays. The production left me smiling and ready for snow and more Christmas music (as I saw it on Dec. 1). It's a spot on show for the entire family to go see as we enter the holiday season.
Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23. Tickets can be bought here.