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Swift Creek Mill taps into nostalgia with "Forever Plaid."

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If you like your theater hip, gritty or titillating, stay away from Swift Creek Mill Theatre's "Forever Plaid." But if you're a fan of fun, you like to laugh, and a tight harmony line makes you feel warm all over, this is a show you'll want to see multiple times.

Anchored steadfastly in the sensibilities of the 1950s, "Forever Plaid" tells the semitragic tale of a four-man singing group whose members are killed on their way to a big performance. Through some inexplicable cosmic kismet, the Plaids return to earth, where they're allowed to perform their act one more time before ascending into heaven.

Though it sounds hackneyed on paper, the idea works onstage and provides the necessary launching point for 100 minutes of smoothly sung standards and good-natured comic hijinks.

Director Tom Width has staged this family-friendly musical at the Mill twice before, and he knows how to mine each song and scene for maximum effect. In his past productions, the Plaids were played by a foursome of Richmond's most talented music theater veterans, who shared an amiable camaraderie and projected a charming innocence. This time out, the cast is a mix of new and familiar faces, but they maintain the Plaid legacy admirably. I attended the first preview performance, so some of the comedy bits didn't yet click with flawless precision. But the vocal dexterity and harmonic blend of the performers were phenomenal.

Durron Tyre plays Jinx, the nervous Nellie of the group who is prone to nosebleeds. Yet when he finds himself in the spotlight in the show-stopping number "Cry," he embraces the moment and delivers a knockout solo. As the nerdy but happy Sparky, Brett Ambler also finds opportunities to shine, with his confident delivery of familiar tunes like "Chain Gang" and "Catch a Falling Star." Andy Nagraj's Smudge provides a strong foundation to each song with his resonant baritone. And leading the group with a quiet determination to match his smooth, understated voice is Brandon Becker as Frankie. Even a cutesy audience participation bit involving the classic piano song, "Heart and Soul," cannot overshadow his endearing presence.

The peppy onstage combo (Greg DeBruyn on bass, musical director Paul Deiss on piano) keeps things moving, and Width's simple scenic design reveals some clever embellishments at the play's end. But it's the four guys wearing the plaid that make this show more than just a cute nostalgic detour, offering instead a laugh-filled journey propelled by some transcendent performances. S

"Forever Plaid" is playing through Jan. 20 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre in Colonial Heights, with shows Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and selected afternoon matinees. Tickets are $31.50-$34.50. Call 748-5203 for details.

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