The Globe's monster hit "Forever Plaid" keeps on selling. Ticket sales for the July run and the current back-by-popular-demand run have reached $1.5 million. The return run has just been extended again, this time to Jan. 5. At this rate, the group may want to rename itself "Forever Green."
Hard to believe that the real-life story behind the scenes of the show, which opened at Steve McGraw's, a small New York supper club, in September, 1989, where it is still playing, started out as small-scale as the story it tells.
The plot revolves around four nerdy guys--Smudge, Jinx, Frankie and Sparky--killed on their way to their first concert performance (by a bus carrying schoolgirls to a Beatles concert) and brought back to life to sing the show they never got to in life.
Like the fictitious Plaids, who did their rehearsing in the basement of Smudge's father's plumbing supply shop, the actors at the Globe, all of whom have been with the show from the beginning, began rehearsing without pay in the apartment of Stan Chandler, who plays Jinx. They performed at events and parties to drum up whatever support they could for the project.
The four, who are now playing in style on a lavishly appointed set at the Globe, remember working on the show whenever they could squeeze in the time from other jobs, never knowing if anything would come of their efforts, but trusting writer-director Stuart Ross and musical director James Raitt and enjoying the close harmony music for its own sake.
"It really was Mickey and Judy put on a show," Chandler said, sitting at a table next to his co-stars in the Old Globe lobby.
The hardest part was singing the same note and then making the smooth journey from that to the harmonies.
"The normal human voice has vibrato, and a lot of this stuff requires you match vibrato to everyone else's," Chandler said. "When we sing as one voice, and one voice grows into the chords, that's difficult. Everyone has to give up their own sound for the group sound.
"There's a time when your chest rattles, and it's like a gear shift. You don't hear your own voice, you just sense this chord," he said. "I've always wanted to sing something like this."
Because they've come so far with this piece, the four feel proprietary about the show. Many other companies are springing up across the country to do the show, but this group's work was "a labor of love," said David Engel, who plays Smudge.
The four, who appear to be as honest, sincere and goofy as the parts they play, believe they bring a unique Plaid-like purity to the material because their faith in it predated the work's success.
"What I think is special about this group of actors is that we've lived through the experience," said Larry Raben, who plays Sparky. "The other companies don't get all that history. They were offered roles in a hit show, and they approach the material that way."
"We made this show real," added Guy Stroman, who plays Frankie.
Ross, who created and directed the show, agrees, and says he'd like to work with this group again. He may have the opportunity. He is already in discussions with the Globe to plan a Plaids Christmas show for next year, and is in the process of moving to California as he negotiates film, television and book deals involving the awesome foursome.
"The strongest parallel was after we first came to the Old Globe," Ross said. "It was like a play within a play, a culmination of a lot of hard work, watching these guys who had climbed through a restaurant to perform the show now performing in the greatest theater in America.
"We have great singers in New York harmonizing gloriously and it's not the same. There are five casts and five more coming up in the beginning of 1992, some of whom I asked to do the show when we were rehearsing in people's living rooms, and they said no," he said. "The willingness to take a leap of faith is so important, and that's why they're so good, because these characters gave up careers to be the Plaids because they loved it."
Other productions include ones in St. Louis, Minneapolis and Boston. Soon to open are runs in Los Angeles, Miami and Japan.
"Other people may play the Plaids and play them beautifully," Ross said. "But these guys \o7 are\f7 the Plaids. You don't have to tell them things. They know."
"Shirley Valentine," Willy Russell's ("Educating Rita") portrait of a 42-year-old housewife finding herself, will find itself in its West Coast premiere at the Old Globe Theatre from March 14 to April 26.
In 1989, the one-woman show garnered acclaim for star Pauline Collins in the West End of London, and later on Broadway and in film, gathering Laurence Olivier awards, Tony awards and an Oscar nomination in the process. Casting has yet to be set for the Globe production, which fills the company's last to-be-announced slot at the Cassius Carter Centre Stage.