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Plaid to the Bone 

The four harmonizing nerds return for a holiday spin.

Ah, the 1950s! How we love to think back to that innocent time prior to the rock and roll revolution, when boy groups like the Four Lads and the Four Freshmen were trilling bashful love songs in Eisenhower's era of peace and goodwill. Of course, we tend to forget that those balmy times imposed a heavy toll on plenty of vulnerable citizens -- women, racial minorities, and gays, among others -- who were summarily ignored or abused in order to preserve the fantasy life of hetero white males. But even for those who became radicalized by the tumult of the 1960s, the close harmonies of '50s classics such as "Moments to Remember" and "Hey There" still exert a gravitational pull on the heartstrings.

Over a decade ago, Stuart Ross began mining these fond reminiscences in his slight entertainment Forever Plaid, which featured four geeky songsters who, after meeting their demise in a car accident, return to earth to complete the performance they were denied. Now they're back in Plaid Tidings at the Cleveland Play House, a holiday re-jiggering of the original show directed by Ross himself. And while Tidings doesn't stray far from its well-planted plaid roots, it once again wins the day with a harmonic convergence of corny gags, smooth musical stylings, and a sleighful of holiday tunes.

Entering to the mordant sounds of a Gregorian chant, with some pop-music "sh-booms" added at the end of phrases, the querulous quartet are confused by their reappearance on the planet and quickly pick up on the personal ailments from their former dweebish lives (Jinx is prone to nosebleeds, Frankie has asthma attacks, Smudge can't divine left from right, and Sparky loves pranks). Soon, though, they are overcome by the holiday spirit, and after making a politically correct nod to all the various religions, they plan a show to capture the seasonal magic. Much of Tidings comprises bits either lifted or adapted from the original work, including a funny calypso medley, a tribute to Perry Como (complete with the somnambulant one crooning on video replay), and a three-minute version of an entire Ed Sullivan Show. Many of these references will be lost on those born after Cleveland last won a major sports championship (Browns, '64), but for those old coots who remember Señor Wences and Topogigio, it's a blast.

This show, like its predecessor, rises or falls on the strength of the performers, and this Play House cast is vocally strong and capable enough on the comedic front. Jonathan Brody and Jody Ashworth handle their duties with endearingly oafish grace, and Scot Fedderly almost stops the show with his rockin' rendition of "Twaz Duh Night Before Christmas." The opening-night performance suffered an apparent setback, since one of the four performers, Randy Rineck, was not available due to laryngitis. But Associate Director (and former Plaid performer) Robert Randle filled the penny loafers of the shy character Jinx just fine.

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