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January 21, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 21, 2005

Strolling down memory lane Strolling down memory lane (January 21, 2005)

Bus Barn presents a fun evening of doo-wop music

by Jeanie Forte

There's a lot of fun going on at the Bus Barn Stage in Los Altos these days, and it's called "Forever Plaid."

It's a slightly silly idea packaged in a thoroughly entertaining evening of great oldies music and campy comedy, and should appeal especially to those among us of a "certain age" -- just old enough to appreciate the tunes. But even if you didn't grow up on the music like I did, my guess is you'll still find yourself laughing and enjoying the antics onstage.

In a nutshell, four doo-wop singers are killed in an accident on the way to their first big gig (in 1964), and The Powers That Be give them a one-time heavenly chance to perform for a live audience. So they present their concert just as they had planned it, singing some of the greatest hits from the late '50s and early '60s.

Compliments to director Barbara Cannon and her production team -- especially Michael Langham as music director and Shannon Stowe on choreography -- for a delightful staging of this popular musical revue. Nothing earth-shaking or deep here -- just a fun evening put together in excellent fashion for pure enjoyment.

But the music is grand: a real trip down memory lane for anyone who listened to it on radios and juke boxes when it was fresh. I can remember saving my nickels so I could hear "Three Coins in the Fountain" on the juke box every time my family went to the local diner. The show includes that number and many more of my old favorites, such as "No Not Much" and "Catch a Falling Star," as well as tunes I'd forgotten about and loved hearing anew, like "Perfidia."

The four singers -- Will Perez, Justin Weatherby, Sean Fenton, and Mark Alabanza -- did an excellent job mimicking a '50s doo-wop group, and sounded as though they've been singing together much longer than just for a few weeks' rehearsal. They nailed the characteristic tight harmonies and delivered the requisite sha-booms with ease and aplomb.

They also have learned an incredible amount of doo-wop choreography from Stowe. When it all comes together, it's amazing to watch and is often humorous -- Stowe and the performers obviously have fun with it, parodying the typical movements of such groups.

Numbers like "Gotta Be This or That" and "Undecided" were sharp and clean, full of bright little touches to embellish the song. In others, like "Crazy Bout Ya Baby," they made use of exotic props to elicit hilarity, even while singing up a storm. Inventive staging ideas abound, providing visual interest and variety. There was also some audience participation -- nothing to be scared of -- that just fit perfectly with the era.

Each performer also had a solo turn or two, where they got to shine individually. All possess terrific voices both in harmonies and in solos. I have to confess a special enjoyment of Fenton's beautiful bass, put to excellent use on "Sixteen Tons." Weatherby pleased with a sweet tenor voice on "Cry" and Alabanza and Perez both demonstrated full, appealing baritones. A winning quartet all around.

The group was ably supported by two live musicians on stage: Jonathan Erman on piano (alternating with his brother, Jeremy) and Danny Min on bass. They did such a great job you hardly knew they were there, even though they played practically non-stop the entire show.

"Forever Plaid" builds nicely to a couple of climactic sequences, including a wonderful calypso medley. But best of all was the "Ed Sullivan Show" recap -- so funny! It probably does help to enjoy it if you watched "Sullivan" every Sunday for years ... but it was truly hysterical.

The finale, a no-holds barred doo-wop version of "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," brought the show to a satisfying conclusion, although I found myself wishing I could put in a request for more songs I would have loved to hear.

What: "Forever Plaid," presented by Bus Barn Stage Company. The musical revue was conceived by Stuart Ross.

Where: Bus Barn Theatre, 97 Hillview Ave. in Los Altos.

When: Through Feb. 12. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday on Jan. 23 and 30.

Cost: Tickets are $28 for Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances; $22 for Sundays.

Info: For reservations please call the box office at (650) 941-0551. For more information please visit www.busbarn.org.


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