It would be hard to imagine a more white-bread Christmas than the one depicted in “Plaid Tidings,” Stuart Ross’ defiantly uncool, resolutely old-fashioned and shamelessly nostalgic musical about a close-harmony quartet trying to sing its way out of purgatory with undercooked arrangements of holiday classics.
This holiday jukebox musical, a sequel to Ross’ much more successful piece “Forever Plaid,” opened Saturday in an earnest and intermittently chuckle-worthy production directed by Michael Walline in O’Connell and Company’s new home at the Park School in Snyder.
The Plaids, who we first met shortly after the bus crash that ended their incipient careers, are now stuck in a holiday-tinged limbo from which the only means of escape is to mount a holiday show under a series of cryptic orders from Rosemary Clooney’s ghost. For real.
The setup is just as insane, and insanely promising, as it sounds. But the show suffers from a confused structure and lack of focus and pales in comparison with Ross’ first effort. (“Forever Plaid” was last seen locally in an excellent Kavinoky Theatre production in 2010.)
It’s still not a total wash for audiences craving a bit of quirky holiday entertainment beyond the standard productions of “A Christmas Carol” and other boilerplate fare. That’s largely because its gifted cast – Kurt Erb, Steven Sitzman, Matthew Mooney and Nicholas Lama – and director/choreographer Walline ratchet the material up at least a few notches higher than it probably deserves.
In one scene featuring what might be your great-grandfather’s impersonation of a hip-hop song titled “Twuz the Nite B4,” Walline’s choreography is appropriately nuts. Suffice it to say that twerking is involved.
Another highlight comes with Mooney’s unhinged performances of “Bésame Mucho” and “Kiss of Fire,” in which we see him briefly shed his painfully shy and awkward persona to become some remote approximation of a Latin lover. Ross also reprises the breathless “Ed Sullivan Show” montage he created for the original show with some updates. It’s a bit of cheap recycling, sure, but it works.
Walline’s choreography throughout is consistently fun and designed for maximum comic effect. He keeps the show moving at a healthy clip, though it couldn’t possibly move swiftly enough to justify its two-hour length. Like far too many jukebox shows – especially commissioned ones like this – “Plaid Tidings” is one short act worth of lighthearted material needlessly stretched to the breaking point.
And though this particular piece might not be the best choice, it has to be said that O’Connell and Company’s recent move to the Park School’s charming and intimate theater bodes well for the company. In its former cavernous space at Erie Community College, what endearing quirks and charms this show contains might have been invisible to the audience. Here, the venue works in favor of the gifted performers that inhabit it, allowing them to turn the triviality of “Plaid Tidings” into something occasionally profound.
2½ stars (Out of four)
What: “Plaid Tidings”
When: Through Dec. 22
Where: The Park School, 4625 Harlem Road
Tickets: $14 to $25
Info: 848-0800 or www.oconnellandcompany.com