Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre celebrated a successful $200,000 fundraising campaign and the start of its 45th season with a reception for about 150 donors and friends before the opening performance of "Forever Plaid."
The play reprises the ASGT's 2008 production, which was shortened when an injured cast member had to be replaced and several shows were rained out. The funds raised will be used to complete the first phase of the restoration of its circa-1800 building.
With the four 2008 cast members reprising their roles, "Forever Plaid" is a pleasant return to 1950s pop music, when groups like the Four Aces and the Four Freshmen topped the charts.
Stuart Ross' "Plaid" debuted off-Broadway in 1990. It tells the story of four harmonizing high school friends on their way to their first big gig in February 1964. Their car is broadsided by a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles' debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
The Plaids die on the night their music was replaced by the Beatles' new British sound.
The show opens as the quartet returns from the afterlife, caught between heaven and earth by a quirk in the solar system that allows them another chance at musical fame.
Veteran ASGT director and popular performer Jerry Vess, who directed the 2008 production, returns, bringing his sure touch to this encore. He coaxes his actors to deliver their energetic best while pulling triple duty as set designer and builder.
Barbara Markey is back in her role as "Plaid" music director, bringing her warm affection for this musical era to the harmonizing quartet.
Also returning is choreographer Amber Clair Perkins, who adds sparkle to the production.
The four stars — Nathan Bowen as Smudge, who isn't good at patter and has a nervous stomach; Trent Goldsmith as Sparky, who fights problems with his retainer; Kyle VanZandt as shy Jinx, who suffers from nosebleeds; and Peter Crews as asthmatic Frankie — project a nerdy nervousness and doo-wop-era innocence sparked by occasional satire.
Comic highlights include the song "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby," where the singers use plungers for microphones, and Trent Goldsmith's fractured Spanish singing "Perfidia."
High marks for frantic exuberance go to a three-minute tribute to Sullivan's show that features jugglers, sock puppets, fire-eaters and the mouse Topo Gigio, accompanied by Jinx's performance of "Lady of Spain," complete with accordion.
Ranking high in doo-wop nostalgia are "Three Coins in a Fountain," "Moments to Remember" and "No, Not Much" in Act 1. The show ends with a rousing "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," which pulls out all the stops.
If you go
"Forever Plaid" runs Thursday, June 10, to Sunday, June 13. Tickets: 410-268-9212 or summergarden.com. Tickets are $18; season tickets for three shows are $45.
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" will be performed Thursdays-Sundays, June 24-July 25. Set in a high school gym where finalists compete for a county spelling championship, this unpredictable show chronicles the experience of six adolescents and a team of supervising adults (including the moderator, a former spelling bee champion, a high school vice principal and a counselor who is an ex-con doing community service). Not recommended for children.
"The Buddy Holly Story" is scheduled Thursdays-Sundays, Aug. 5-Sept. 5, to close out the season.