By Nikki Garrett Metzger
(Victor Valley) – The dynamic duo of Tom Hannett and Danny Thorn are bringing great family entertainment to the stage once again at the High Desert Center for the Arts with the time honored favorite “Forever Plaid”, heading into its final weekend.
More of a revue than a traditional play, “Forever Plaid” tells the story of a male pop quartet that was killed in a car crash on the way to their first professional gig, and has been stuck ever since in some kind of limbo. They return to earth for one night only, in order to give their concert and fulfill their dream, filling the stage with hokey comedy, endearing personal revelations, and tons of gorgeous close-harmony singing.
A show like this relies heavily on the singing of the cast and producer Tom Hannett and director Danny Thorn have assembled a fine collection of voices. The balance and blend between the four voices is excellent and the harmonies are amazing.
The group, The Plaids, is based on all the great four-man groups of the late ’50s and early ’60s like the Lettermen and Four Freshmen, with affectionate tributes to such cultural icons as Ed Sullivan and Perry Como. Forever Plaid is an audience pleaser for most any age group.
Before the show opened, I had the chance to sit down and talk with each of the Plaids. This is my interview with Shane Churchill who plays “Smudge” in the show:
High Desert Daily: Tell us about your theater background.
Shane: I have been teaching vocal music at Granite Hills high school for the last 12 years. This is my first year teaching the drama program. I was in this show 8 years ago, so I am the resident veteran. I’m familiar with it; I played the same character, Smudge. That’s actually the reason why I came back – a mix of really enjoying the experience of the show, being a music guy, the kind of harmonies and music it has, and knowing who I was going to be singing with made all the difference in the world to me. Each of those guys in their own right is tremendously talented.
HDD: Tell us about your character in the show.
Shane: My character’s name, Smudge, actually comes from the fact that he is left-handed and when he would write on a piece of paper his hand would track over what he wrote, so he would smudge it. My character is the bass, the low singer in the group, and as we go into the very opening of the show my character is the most hesitant to come back and do the concert. By the end of the show my character is the most resistant to leave. He has found that this is where he wants to be, what he wants to do.
One of the things you’ll notice throughout the show with the choreography is that his left-handed orientation of my character (by the way I am ridiculously right handed so this is a fun, FUN exercise for me) causes a few funny moments. On more than a few occasions he is the one that is going one way while the rest of the guys are going that way, so I’m constantly making corrections. That was a little hard for me, but it was one of those things that I had to train myself to NOT do what came naturally. I find that you have to be a little bit better dancer to do it incorrectly than to do it right.
On Scotland the Brave we put on these Scottish sashes right before the song. Everybody else has them on the correct side and mine is going the wrong way. It’s funny because it is a very solemn song and I’m at the end trying to fix my sash because of the left-right thing.
That’s the one thing about my character: the note range is quite a bit expansive. There are other shows that have that spread, and that’s another reason why I think I really enjoy the show – it really gives me a chance to really show off that range.
HDD: What characteristic do you identify most with your character?
Shane: I would say with Smudge – as much as he doesn’t necessarily want to do the show, he is a very jovial character, he has a very kind heart about him, and that’s one aspect about my personality that I try to connect with, how I try to go ahead and live my life. I think jovial is probably the best way to describe it, and just try to have a good outlook.
HDD: Was your part easy to learn?
Shane: That’s the interesting thing, since I did the show 8 years ago some of the guys tease me that I should already know it…well I defy people to sing note for note stuff they did 8 years ago. One of the guys said, “Well I did a show 8 years ago that I kinda know” and I said, “Was it as difficult as this show? No.”
The other thing, this is what I found to be interesting with the choreography, even though I don’t remember the it move by move from the show 8 years ago, I have these remnants of “oh yeah, on that word my hand went here and my foot went here” and so I have to train myself against my natural instincts to do that old move when it was supposed to be a different one with the new choreographer. That part has been a little bit difficult only because my body is wanting to do this other move. But the choreography that she has given us is really awesome.
Shane: It’s one of those things that, and I feel like a fuddy duddy saying this, but you don’t get music written like this much nowadays. It has this complexity that sounds simple and you hear these chords that are just gorgeous; but there is so much complexity…with me being a music teacher I look at this and go, “Wow, nowadays you never see stuff like this! It’s beautiful!” Even the fun, fast stuff is so neat, just the way it is written. I appreciate the style from this bygone era, and the show really does give us a chance to highlight all these cool songs. So many of the audience members, like my students who will come see the show, will never have heard of these songs but will realize, “Wow, they had really neat sounding songs back then.” The older members of the audience will be able to actually re-live “Oh yes, back when music was good.”
HDD: Is there anything about this show that is different from other shows you’ve been in previously?
Shane: I think one of the biggest differences is that this is a four person show in which the four characters pretty much don’t leave the stage for the entire show. Most other shows that I’ve done you have these scenes, then you go ahead and prepare for the next scene, costumes changes, you get time between songs and what not. This one is one song, another song, another song, another song…you don’t leave the stage, most of them have choreography, and it’s up to us to do the dialog in between. It puts a higher responsibility on us as cast, whereas in other shows you don’t have to worry about that. This one is you have to be on your game front to finish. And I appreciate that.
HDD: What are you hoping the audience takes away from this show?
Shane: I think two things really – one is that appreciation of the music that we’ve talked about. The other is that outlook on life: these four guys have such a love for what they do and what they are, I think it is infectious. Without us being an overtly inspirational show I think it is still definitely inspirational. If people come out of this really evaluating their own values, thinking, “Oh wow, these guys really clung to their music and to each other. They really do embody what we should have as our mentality nowadays.” Less cynical which definitely I think our current society is very much so.
HDD: What behind the scenes stuff do you want to share?
Shane: One of the things that we mentioned when we first started rehearsing, as much as this is a show that is directed by a director and produced by a producer, this is also the Plaids’ show, and as we’re rehearsing well put little things here and there. The little things that we come up with, like we’ll be singing or doing a dance move, and one of the guys will throw in something from out of nowhere, and its perfect. It makes us crack up. One of the examples I love is the song Provida, there’s a little thing where we’re singing and the character of Sparky forgets his words and all of a sudden he turns this gesture of looking at the words on his hand into this very “Machismo Estas” out of nowhere! Probably a good quarter of what the audience sees in the show wasn’t even written. It was just like “Let’s just come up with this, this is wonderful!” And that’s what I think is so cool – the audience isn’t going to have any idea as to what was intended and what we came up with. And that’s what I like about this production what the guys have brought to it, made it its own unique thing, and I love it for that.
Forever Plaid was written and originally directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross. The show wraps up this weekend at the High Desert Center for the Arts, with show dates Friday March 2nd at 7:30, and Saturday March 3rd at 2:30 and 7:30pm.
Tickets are available DB Music in Hesperia 760-949-3838. Or e-mail for more information Hannett_Thorn_Productions@yahoo.com.