David Dodd 4:24 p.m., May 22
Bad news on the Heaven Front: for many, acceptance doesn't guarantee tenure.
The Our Lady of Harrisburg bus did the Four Plaids in, decades ago, before they had a chance to strut their tight harmonics. They had their chance, in Forever Plaid, and sauntered through the Pearly Gates. Only it was temporary. Provisional. Now they must return to earth and take the "cosmic re-certification test" - the "spiritual SATs" - to gain re-admittance. Fail and they'll wander in a nebulous nether region forever.
This explains why the Plaids find themselves on stage in Carlsbad with the equivalent of the Actor's Nightmare: do who knows what kind of a show while being nudged in Yuletide directions by obvious hints.
As in the original, Stuart Ross heaps the cute on his Christmas sequel to FP. The "posthumous guy group" must "restore the earth's harmonal balance" so people can feel "warm and comforted and runny inside."
After an intro. as ornate as it is wordy, and much fretting about what to do with cloying shtick to match, the writing calms down, and the talented cast at New Village Arts takes over.
These guys are good! They perform sequels from the original (the Ed Sullivan Show in 3 1/2 minutes; and a Calypso skit in which Matilda "take me money and she go Xmas shopping"). They sing impressively orchestrated medleys of holiday favorites (Ross at his best here: a few bars of one flips into a few of another, then another, and all linked as if a single, inevitable song). In Act two, they don maroon sweaters, a homage to Perry Como and, among other things, do a concert with hand-rung bells.
Nathan Riley's Smudge stands out for two reasons. He's the first African-American I've seen cast in a Plaid show, and he's one of the most talented as well. Along with an engaging presence, Riley has a voice like Yma Sumac's octave-vaulter. He sings the bass-line on "Sh-Boom" then goes upstairs for "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "Let It Snow," and makes each sound like his natural range.
Byran Banville (Frankie), Charles Evans (Sparky), and Conor Tibbs (Jinx) score in individual numbers (especially Banville's nervous, existential takes on the meaning of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman") and with intricate, four-part harmonizing. Credit as well to director Jason Heil, who's as adept at staging musicals as he is with other theatrical genres.
Although the lighting's often too somber for this material, Kristianne Kurner's scenic design's a hoot: she's decked the proscenium with gigantic, Prince Valiant bangs, made of tinsel.
New Village Arts, 2787 B Street, Carlsbad, playing through December 24