Dexter's Encore Theatre goes retro with 'Forever Plaid'
Photo courtesy of Encore Theatre
Because Leo Daignault, who's both performing in and assistant directing Encore Theatre's new production of "Forever Plaid," has been involved on-and-off with the beloved revue show for about 20 years now, he feels like he's been a Plaid forever.
"Right when (the show) opened, it became very popular, and then they opened six or seven different companies immediately," Daignault explained. "The first company opened in Washington, D.C., the second company that opened was in Boston, and so I went to Boston and opened it there. But when (the show) became a hit in New York, I was doing the last workshop production in Chicago. So if you look at the liner notes of the (original cast recording) album, at the very very bottom, in tiny, tiny print, if you get a magnifying glass, it says, there was a production at Wisdom Bridge Theater in Chicago, and that was the workshop I was doing when 'Forever Plaid' became a hit off-Broadway."
Daignault was originally cast by the show's creator, Stuart Ross, with whom he has worked closely for many years. Most recently, Daignault appeared in the holiday version of the show, "Plaid Tidings," at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, as well as working as a vacation swing for "Avenue Q" on Broadway, playing Nikki/Trekkie Monster as needed.
But an old friend — Encore co-founder and Broadway performer Dan Cooney — from John Glenn High School in Westland was what ultimately brought Daignault to reprise his "Plaid" role in Michigan.
"The appeal for me was to help out Dan and be around him, and to see what he’s got going here," said Daignault, referring to Encore. "I'm really proud of him. This is a great great thing."
And since Daignault parents and sister still live in the area, Encore's "Plaid" offered him the chance to spend time with his family, too.
"Plaid" focuses on a classic '50s all-male singing group — made up of four nerdy high school friends from the audio-visual club — who return from the great beyond to finally perform the show they never got to do when alive.
"They were on the way to their first paid gig, and they had just picked up their new tuxedo jackets, and they were going to get paid, and they were all excited," explained Daignault. "And then they were hit by a school bus of Catholic teens on their way to see the Ed Sullivan Show, where the Beatles would perform for the first time. And that’s when they were killed."
Of course, the circumstances of the the group's death is hardly a coincidence. As if to underline the change that was coming, the Plaids, at one point in the show, take a stab at the Beatles hit "She Loves You," replacing "Yeah, yeah, yeah" with "Yes, siree, Bob." So the show is not simply a nostalgia trip; it also pokes fun at the era and its music.
"These guys never would have made it," said Daignault. "Not because weren’t talented, but because music took a different direction."
But while performing James Raitt's arrangements of several songs from the era - like "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Sixteen Tons," "Chain Gang," "Cry," "Heart and Soul," "Lady of Spain," and "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" — the Plaids, decked in dinner jackets, execute their hyper-literal, overly exaggerated choregraphy and croon their hearts out while still occasionally bickering with each other.
Daignault's character, Jinx, "is a shy person," said the actor. "He’s inhibited, he’s a romantic who never in life had anything really happen with a significant other, he’s a diamond in the rough. And he gets nosebleeds very often. If I hit a note that's too high, my nose will bleed."
As assistant director, Daignault has contributed ideas and insights drawn from years of working with the show's creators, and he has nothing but positive things to say about his Encore experience thus far.
"I am so thrilled by the entire cast of this show," said Daignault. "I walked in — they had been working for a week before I got here, and they knew their music, and they’re all very talented. It’s lovely. Everyone here is really, really a great team player. They're all there to create the best show possible."