If Stuart Ross had a Christmas wish, "Plaid Tidings" would transport us back into a TV world of black-and-white yuletide specials.
Ross does get us there -- eventually -- in this paean to early-60's boy bands. Four young men dressed in cardigans, sing silvery back-up with their hero, Perry Como, who croons on a video clip taken from his 1958 Christmas special. Then, these lads sit angelically and blend tight harmonies by themselves in "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." With a little snow falling and the lights turned low, our memories drift, and there we sit, in our pajamas, on the couch with mom and dad and a bowl of popcorn.
It is a sweet destination, but Ross makes us feel like kids suffering through December days waiting for Christmas morning. When can we open the presents?!
Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's production of "Plaid Tidings" has not solved the frustrating fluff of Ross's first act. In his original, "Forever Plaid," the playwright introduced Sparky, Frankie, Smudge and Jinx -- four young singers killed on their way to a gig in 1964. Granted a return to Earth, the boys play a farewell concert. For whatever reason, Ross felt it necessary, in the sequel, to explain how the "Plaids" have returned once again, what their purpose is, who they need to please, how they...oh forget it. The act meanders for an hour before it dawns on the boys: they're here to perform the Christmas show they never got to do. Couldn't we just have cut to the chase?
Director Michael Brindisi's cast plays along with the nonsense. Jared Oxborough gives Sparky a nice Rat Pack savoir faire -- a cool, handsome ease that demonstrates his knack for stage command. The young Jerry Lewis comes to mind as Brian Skellenger wings through the physical slapstick in Jinx's grab bag. Humor does not come naturally to Justin Cooke although he has the best pure voice as Frankie. He strains to put across a bit in which he sings "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer" and then unravels as he defends and justifies poor Rudy's plight.
Sean Nugent's bland affect works to his advantage as the brainiac, Smudge, whose best moment is a very nice, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Each man gets his own spot, but it's really together that their vocal work soars.
Tamara Kangas Erickson dishes up some smart choreography for the "Plaids." Brindisi pushes for laughs in sketches such as a three-minute summation of "The Ed Sullivan Show" and a great little turn on "Carol of the Bells." Andrew Cooke and Cory Carter provide a piano-bass combo that serves up a perfect musical background.
Bring a deep well of nostalgia if you want to really enjoy "Plaid Tidings." Even your best cheer, though, will be tested as Ross's setup chases its tail. Take it for what it is worth, for you will wander out into the chill air with a head full of songs and images of an era long ago.