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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Western alumni sing harmony in “Forever Plaid”

With a crash of thunder, a flash of light illuminates four lonely cloth-covered microphones on stage. Four men donning white jackets, plaid bowties and cummerbunds file through the audience, carrying candles and singing in close harmony.

“We’re Forever Plaid, and we’re dead,” they said.

The Plaids star in Mount Baker Theatre’s fall production, “Forever Plaid.” The show features Western alumni onstage and behind the curtain.

Meet the Plaids: a fictional guy group quartet from the 1950s who died on their way to their first big show, just as they were getting to their favorite harmony while rehearsing their finale “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”

Now back from the afterlife, they perform the show they never had a chance to do when they were alive. Upon introduction, each character is able to let their quirks and personality shine through.

Smudge, the bass and cynic of the group, is played by alumnus Dylan Kane.

In the play, Smudge remembers the orders and choreography that everyone else has forgotten, and is responsible for the suitcase of props that he took to the afterlife.

Actors for the Mount Baker Theatre's production of "Forever Plaid" rehearse. // Photo courtesy of Damian Vines
Actors for the Mount Baker Theatre’s production of “Forever Plaid” rehearse. // Photo courtesy of Damian Vines

Kane studied theater and acting but took private voice lessons from Western faculty, which he credits for his current skills and role as Smudge, he said.

Alumnus TJ Anderson plays Sparky, the jokester and baritone of the group. Sometimes a few steps behind, he still manages to maintain a smile. Sparky’s jokes keep things from getting too serious with the undead quartet, Anderson said.

Anderson studied vocal performance, and the music department was instrumental in his preparation for roles like this one, he said. Anderson performed with Western Voices, a select ensemble, for a few years. These experiences prepared him for the harmonies in “Forever Plaid,” he said.

Sparky’s stepbrother, the perpetually shy and terrified Jinx, is played by Dustyn Moir. He sings tenor, and is plagued with occasional nosebleeds, especially after singing high notes.

Moir said he encourages anyone who likes puns, doo-wop groups and really cheesy moments to see “Forever Plaid.”

“It’s got a lot of heart,” he said. “It’s got a lot of laughter, and a lot of hard work put behind it, and it shows.”

Frankie, played by Casey Raiha, is the leader and second tenor of the group. Though Frankie, like all of the Plaids, has his own flaws and insecurities, he is the one who holds everyone together as things get crazy, Raiha said.

Throughout the play, he gently pushes his friends into place as they all struggle to remember the lyrics and choreography they learned back when they were alive in the 1950s.

“If you want to — for 90 minutes — enjoy a story about heart and laugh and cry a little and also just walk out of the theater singing the songs you just heard, you should come see this show,” Raiha said.

Anderson said that he’s performed as Smudge in “Forever Plaid” before, along with the holiday sequel, “Plaid Tidings,” with the Bellingham Theatre Guild in 2011.

After enjoying his first time being in “Forever Plaid,” Anderson jumped at the opportunity to be involved again, especially at the Mount Baker Theatre, he said.

“It’s all about the music. The music is gorgeous. The harmonies are beautiful and the characters are endearing and the show itself is just hilarious and adorable,” he said.

Behind the scenes, alumna Savannah LeCornu, a 2014 Western graduate, is the lighting designer, and Griffin Harwood, junior at Western, is the stage manager.

LeCornu studied theater, with concentrations in lighting design and dramatic writing and now works on productions at Western and at Mount Baker Theatre, she said.

Western showed her a love for lighting design that she never knew she had, LeCornu said.

As the Plaids doo-wop and sway across the multicolored floor, they tell the story of their lives — and afterlives — through their worried bantering between songs.

While performing popular songs from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, the Plaids become more cohesive, and find their places within the group, Anderson said.

The four take care of one another throughout the show, until they become in sync and free of the baggage of anxiety and fear that was holding them down at the beginning, he said.

“Forever Plaid” runs this month with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 3 p.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees. Shows will run from Friday, Oct. 2 until Sunday, Oct. 18 at the Mount Baker Theatre.

Anyone who sees “Forever Plaid” will find some sort of connection to it and enjoy the show, Anderson said.

“Even if it’s just for the music, even if it’s just for the jokes, even if it’s just for the character arcs, there’s something for everybody,” Anderson said.

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