Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Plaid lads will never die

The show “Forever Plaid” ends this week after 14 years at Sun Valley Resort

Express Staff Writer

Photo illustration by Kristen Kaiser

Every Sunday, for the past decade and some years, Wally Huffman got the 4:30-in-the-afternoon dreads.

"It's about that time I always asked, 'Why?" he said.

Why were he and three other men leaving their cozy homes to convene at The Boiler Room at Sun Valley Resort to put on eyeliner?

"We start to joke around and laugh with one another, and about 6:30, when we put on our tuxes, that's when the adrenalin starts to run, and by the time the show starts an hour later, we're Plaids," Huffman said. "We go reluctantly and we cry all the way to the show, but when the show starts, you'll see four of the happiest men you will probably see in your life in one place. We're in heaven."

The Plaids—Huffman as Frankie, John Mauldin as Sparky, Robert Newman as Smudge and Paul Stoops as Jinx—are the final incarnation of the show "Forever Plaid." The local adaptation of the off-Broadway musical that has the men harmonizing to "Three Coins in a Fountain," "Sixteen Tons," "Undecided," "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" and more has for 14 years brought adoring crowds to tears of nostalgia for that first dance in the high school gym.

The critically acclaimed revue is an affectionate revival of the close-harmony "guy groups" that reached the height of their popularity during the 1950s. This quartet of high-school chums' dreams of recording an album ended in a collision with a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see The Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. The play begins with the Plaids returning from the afterlife for their final shot at musical glory.

For Huffman, it struck a familiar note. When local actor David Blampied came to see the then general manager of Sun Valley Resort in 1998, he was looking for a venue for a one-week run. Huffman loved the idea but though a singer, he declined the offer to join, citing his workload for the resort.

Once he saw the revue, he asked the crew to stay on through the winter at the Boiler Room.

"Halfway through a show, my wife leaned over and said, 'This doesn't just look like you, it is you,'" he said. "I had done productions in high school and college. It wasn't until they were looking for an understudy for the top two tenor roles that I started doing the show."

Huffman described the experience as "nerds being able to come back to their favorite time in life and do it over."


"We really were those guys that stood on the street corner in '62 serenading the sorority girls. We weren't that good—it was the only way to get dates!"

There have been a few substitutes along the way. Joe Fos played the piano for the show for a while before Dorinda Rendahl became the go-to girl.

Singer and show devotee Sue Noel said they always got it right in her mind.

"I just love the musicianship," Noel said. "I've always loved guy groups, and they are all friends of mine. I think there is nothing more beautiful than men's voices in harmony. I'm so proud of them for being so good."

Huffman said they have really gotten it where they want it.

"None of us wants to do our last show," he said. "But part of the issue is, we've pretty much done the show so many times and we've probably done our run. We don't want to go and peter out—we want to go out in a blaze of glory. And I'm a little tired of coming home and getting rouge on my pillow."

Though Huffman cops to doing anything for the Plaids, and hanging on to his plaid underwear, John Mauldin said he never had a plaid sport coat before the show, donning one for the first time in 2007.

"All things, good or bad, come to an end sooner or later," Mauldin said. "It's hard saying goodbye to the show, but even harder to know I won't be sharing the stage with these incredible guys again. Wally, Rob and Paul are three of the finest people I know. I'm sure we'll get together in the future for one reason or another, but it just won't be the same."

Huffman is phasing out of his duties involving the day-to-day operation of the resort, leaning more into the real estate development side, freeing him up, he hopes, to pursue his dream of a remake of "Beach Blanket Babylon," a raunchy send-up of the Frankie and Annette beach party days, and has a benefit in Rupert for the Plaids. He would like to tour the show as well, perhaps even finding a spot at Jackpot, Nev.

But for now, Huffman said he's just planning for the closing-night show, when they will repeat the rituals they've performed for most of the past 14 years.

"We've never done the show without splashing on our Old Spice, even though it makes us gag, clasping hands with our Plaid class rings and saying 'All for one and one for all!'"

Noel will be there hawking memorabilia, the job they assigned her when she kept showing up.

And what will groupie Noel do with her Sunday nights now?

"I guess I'll be home with my cats," she said. "Go to the movies? I have so enjoyed it, it just never failed to delight me."

"This has gone a long way back for all of us," Huffman agreed. "It won't die, it will just change. And it's been a special privilege to get up and do."

Final shows:

The public is invited to a free dress rehearsal run on Thursday, March 29 at 7:30

The final show will be Friday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. Doors open at early for cocktails around the fire pit.

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