'Forever Plaid' - pitch-perfect melodies from beyond the grave

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday April 16, 2024
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(L to R) Justin P. Lopez, Matt Skinner, Kevin Singer, Edu Gonzalez-Maldonado in Forever Plaid'
(L to R) Justin P. Lopez, Matt Skinner, Kevin Singer, Edu Gonzalez-Maldonado in Forever Plaid'

A show that begins with the deaths of its lead characters might not seem like a fun evening at the theater, but that's exactly how "Forever Plaid" begins. The off-Broadway musical revue tells the story of The Plaids, a quartet of high school pals who dream of emulating their favorite 1950s guy groups like The Four Aces and The Four Freshmen. But on their way to their first gig, The Plaids are killed in a car wreck. But this doesn't stop them from pursuing their dreams. The Plaids return from the afterlife for one final stab at musical glory.

From April 18 to May 5, San Francisco's beloved musical theater company 42nd Street Moon will stage a revival of the 1989 play at the Gateway Theater. This new production falls under the direction of Daniel Thomas, whose association with the show dates back to 2000 when he first played Jinx, one of the Plaids. Since then, Thomas has played Jinx in seven additional productions and has directed the show twice.

"For 42nd Street Moon, we were looking for shows about community and found family," Thomas said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "The guys in 'Forever Plaid' found those things in their shared love of music and singing. You can see that they were not the popular guys in high school. They're awkward, they're insecure, and you get hints that their home lives are not ideal. But you can see the love and friendship they share with each other, and that makes the show sweet and even poignant, while being hilarious."

Thomas added that the deaths of the lead characters is treated with a light touch so that the audience doesn't dwell on it. As the show progresses, the audience is likely to realize that their dying is a metaphor for life passages.

"It's the reaching for dreams," he said. "The struggles of not reaching them, and eventually realizing that the accomplishments you do reach may very well be enough, and may even be more fulfilling."

(L to R) Justin P. Lopez, Matt Skinner, Kevin Singer, Edu Gonzalez-Maldonado in Forever Plaid'  

More music
The major selling point of "Forever Plaid" is the music. The Plaids perform four-part harmonies of classic 1950s tunes like "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," "Three Coins in the Fountain," and "16 Tons." We asked Thomas about marketing this style of music in today's Taylor Swift/Beyoncé market.

"I think popular music has spread out to the point where younger audiences can embrace all styles of music," he said. "Beyoncé can do a country album, Taylor Swift can glide between genres, artists like Ed Sheeran and Josh Groban have revived some of that crooning sound of the mid-20th century. And even though showtunes don't crack the charts like they used to, musicals in general are more appealing to young audiences today than they were when I was their age."

One of the four singers in "Forever Plaid" is an up-and-coming performer named Edu Gonzales-Maldonado, who plays Jinx. He discovered his love for singing at Martuni's, the popular San Francisco piano bar, where he's still a regular.

Actor Edu Gonzales-Maldonado  

After the pandemic, Gonzales-Maldonado decided to pursue a professional singing career and first appeared in 42nd Street Moon's production of "A Grand Night for Singing" in 2022. A year later he and a few friends put together "Cantos De Mi Tierra," the first all-Spanish cabaret show at Martuni's. "Cantos De Mi Tierra" continues to grow. They will be doing a performance at Feinstein's later this year.

Gonzales-Maldonado hails from Puerto Rico. He moved to the Bay Area in 2010 to attend graduate school in the biosciences, often spending long nights in the lab. Then he came out as a gay man, and began discovering parts of his personality that had been repressed for a long time. He began singing in his spare time.

Singing along
"With singing, I felt like I could have a very immediate and positive impact on people around me," he said. "I could help them process difficult emotions, or just bring a smile to their faces and help them get through a rough day. I got addicted to that feeling, jumping on every chance I could find to get out of the lab and go sing for people."

He said that the premise of "Forever Plaid" really speaks to him. He lost a family member during the pandemic lockdown and had a major health scare of his own.

"I realized I had no time to lose and I started auditioning for shows as soon as the theaters reopened," he said. "The Plaids are helping me keep that lesson in mind, and Jinx's character has really resonated with me."

Gonzales-Maldonado feels that Jinx teaches the audience that it's never too late to come out of your shell and shine.

"He starts off very shy, terrified of the spotlight, but with the encouragement of the other Plaids, he eventually allows himself to shine," he said.

But, as he points out, Jinx doesn't begin to shine until after he's dead, but he feels that the lesson still stands.

"When I first came out, I was very insecure and hesitant to be in any kind of spotlight," he said. "I definitely never imagined myself performing on stage. I sometimes regret having waited until my mid-thirties to start exploring a career in theater, but Jinx is helping me come to terms with that. It may have taken longer than I wish it had, but I got there eventually, and that's what matters."

According to Thomas, it's the music that keeps the audiences coming to see "Forever Plaid" in production after production.

"It's lovely and timeless," he said. "It's the harmonies and the voices. It's the humor and it's the heart. When played right, the show makes you love this group, and makes you feel you can reach your dreams as well."

'Forever Plaid,' April 18-May 5, Gateway Theater, 215 Jackson Street, $25-70. www.42ndstmoon.org

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