Even after the rise of Elvis and the Beatles, harmony groups like the Four Lads, the Four Freshmen, and the Crew Cuts continued to pursue a highly original form of jazz-influenced singing. They combined the popular songbook with clever adaptations of the mambo, the calypso, and the cha cha in a way that was fun, catchy, and musical. Plaid Tidings, the holiday edition of Stuart Ross’s Forever Plaid that’s running now through December 29 at the Rubicon, is the perfect vehicle for a seasonal revival of this irresistibly warmhearted and soul-stirring subgenre.
The show’s premise is that the four Plaids — Smudge (Sean Bell), Sparky (Adolpho Blaire), Frankie (Joshua David Cavanaugh), and Jinx (Zak Edwards) — have died in a traffic accident and are returning to Earth for one night in order to redeem their souls by playing the concert they never got to play when they were alive. This wistful, “also-rans from the afterlife” perspective informs the self-deprecating humor that’s threaded throughout their zany attempts to put on a holiday show.
Every one of these performers has a terrific voice along with the ability to crack an audience up all by themselves, but it’s when the four come together that the really wild moments happen. The first act’s medley of carols is a marvel of rapid transitions and hyper compression. The Ed Sullivan Show parody in the second will have you marveling at how much you remember (Topo Gigio! Señor Wences!), and the entire night will send you home feeling the beauty of four voices locked into a chord.