It's not everyday that you can see Westfield High Theatre director Scott Pafumi portraying a ventriloquist dummy or Centreville resident Jim Mitchell in a ballerina's tutu. But these things and many more are among the hilarious happenings of Westfield High's musical comedy revue, "Forever Plaid."
SHOW TIMES are Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. each night and Sunday, Oct. 2, at 2 p.m. at the school theater. It will raise funds for WHS theater scholarships. Tickets are $10; order them at www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com or call 703-488-6439.
"It's a great story for the whole family, with beautiful songs and lots of funny things happening," said director Lori Knickerbocker. "It has a lot of heart-warming moments that I've always wanted to see performed at Westfield, and we have a perfect quartet of guys to do it."
The Plaids were on their way to their first big singing gig in the early '60s when their car was broadsided by a bus full of parochial-school girls en route to see the Beatles perform on the "Ed Sullivan Show." However, they're miraculously revived and allowed to return to earth to perform the concert of their dreams.
The Plaids — Smudge, Jinx, Frankie and Sparky — are played by two students and two adults and, said Knickerbocker, "Its been a wonderful bonding experience, and the rehearsals have been so much fun. Its also emotional because these guys get this one final chance to sing their hearts out — and they do."
Furthermore, over the course of the show, each character overcomes a particular affliction to become a real, blended harmony, and the audience ends up rooting for them to be successful. A highlight is when the entire "Ed Sullivan Show" — and its famous acts — are performed in just three minutes.
"It's really wild," said Knickerbocker. "People will be shooting off balloons, someone will try to knock a cigarette out of someone's mouth with a whip, and there are sock puppets. And it really brings back hysterical memories for anyone from the '60s era. And kids will think its funny because of all the antics and goofiness on stage."
"To see Scott Pafumi and Jim Mitchell taking on these totally different characters is worth the price of admission," said Knickerbocker. "The music is fabulous but the emphasis in on comedy."
Senior Kevin Manship, 17, plays Jinx. "He is a very timid character, the first half of the show, then he finds his footing and becomes more outgoing," said Manship. "I get scared, so I get nosebleeds."
HE SAID the hardest part is singing in character the same way Jinx speaks, so he is the same character throughout the show, and Manship likes the comic bits in between the songs. Manship said the audience will like the show because "it takes classic songs with good vocal harmony and combines them with slapstick comedy."
Senior Barry Armbruster, 17, plays Sparky, who he calls a confident funny guy. "He likes to crack jokes and is the only one without a phobia, so he gets frustrated with the other character's problems. But he turns them into something."
Armbruster said the music is tough to perform because it's very tight four-part harmony and Sparky is the baritone so he is right in the middle of the chords. The best part, he said, is "the ensembleship of being part of the plaids, it's kind of like a fraternity."
Armbruster especially likes the Caribbean-music section of the show and said audiences will enjoy the familiar tunes. "It's a funny and charming show," he said. "I think they'll be endeared to the Plaids by the end of the evening."
Community-theatre veteran Jim Mitchell plays the nervous, introspective Smudge who also comes into his own by the end of the show.
He said the four-part harmony is very demanding music — "much more difficult than just learning the melody. But it's been a blast. I love working with Scott, and Barry and Kevin are terrific young men. And Lori and Yvonne [Henry, choreographer] have been a joy to work with."
Mitchell likes the fact that all the Plaids have equal roles. As for the Ed Sullivan segment, he said, "I think people will be rolling in the aisles. It's bizarre and fast and even if you've never seen the show, its funny. And if you have, it's a side-splitter."
HE ESPECIALLY loves the Harry Belafonte song, "Mathilda," done in calypso style, with the audience encouraged to join in. He also praised Manship's dad Charlie, the accompanist. Said Mitchell: "His piano playing is tremendous."
Frankie, the leader of the Plaids, is played by Pafumi. "He's a natural director, so it was a good fit for me, being the director around here," he said. "I enjoy getting to sing the songs, and I love the music's style and time period." His favorite songs are "Sixteen Tons" and "Change Gang," and he sings the lead on "Heart and Soul" and on "Mathilda."
Pafumi said the show has sort of a cult following, so people from far away are coming to see the Westfield production. He also said he has learned a great deal from professional voice teacher Nancy Smith, who is coaching the thespians.
Senior Branson Reese, 17, plays God. "Only my powerful, all-inspiring voice is heard," he said. "I created the universe in seven days and, much much later, I narrate the beginning of this show. As busy as my schedule is, I owed the Plaids a favor because they died in an accident, so I reincarnated them."
Stage manager Cheryl Cordyngley, 17, is also in charge of the show's technical aspects. She keeps things running smoothly, and both adults and students focused. Said Cordyngley, "They get a little rowdy sometimes, as all actors do, but they are pretty good at staying on task."
Student vocal director Laura Fraase has worked with the singers since spring and has helped Smith teach them the harmony. "I'm planning on being a music education major in college, and it's a good opportunity for me to get some direction practice," said Fraase. "The most intensive rehearsals started in late August, which gave us 1 1/2 months to get the show together. There is lots of challenging music to learn in such a short period for adults and students with different work and school schedules."
VOICE TEACHER Smith, of Little Rocky Run, taught the Plaids the music and how to follow the lead singer. "They're doing an amazing job," she said. "They're really talented guys, so it's a pleasure to work with them; they are going to do great."
Pianist Charlie Manship said the key to being good accompanist is staying in the background and letting the featured performers shine. "This show's all about how much fun the music of that time period was, and we're having fun preparing for it," he said. However, he added, "Most of the time you only have one soloist to keep track of, but, in this show I have four."
He said the wide variety of music helps make the show so enjoyable and he likes the camaraderie between the actors playing the Plaids.
Said Manship: "The whole theatre crowd at Westfield is really a class act, so I'm happy to be part of the team and part of this show."