Moore OnStage Opens With a Musical
One of the most successful musicals in recent memory is the season opener for Moore OnStage. Called "Letter-perfect! Sweet, funny and thoroughly amusing" by The New York Times when it was first produced off-Broadway, "Forever Plaid" will be in town for the next two weekends.
Performances are being held at the Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines from Friday, Sept. 8, through Sunday, Sept. 17.
Written by Stuart Ross, with musical continuity supervised by James Raitt, the scenario centers on a quartet, the "Plaids," who sing in close harmony, squabble over the smallest intonations, and execute their outlandish choreography with over-zealous precision.
Victims in a car crash in the 1950s on the way to their first big concert, they are miraculously revived for the posthumous chance to fulfill their dreams and perform the show that never was.
The local production of "Forever Plaid" stars four accomplished actors, three of whom have performed the show before in other locations. Tim Herman from New York City and Chris Spaulding from Virginia Beach are joined by Raleigh native Matthew Addison and Southern Pines resident Tory Wright, as they meld their talents in this delightful musical revue.
Directing the show is Melvin Tunstall III, with musical direction by Steven Menendez, both of whom were involved in last winter's very popular Moore OnStage production of "Swing!"
Switching roles from performer to director this time around, Melvin Tunstall is aware that as a director, he is responsible for the show coming together as a whole.
"I try to remember all the elements of the shows in which I have performed under different directors," he says. "In this case, the actors who have done the show before bring a lot of history to the production, as well as the off-stage and on-stage nuances."
Born in Burlington, Tunstall started "performing" with his family's band when he was just three years old. Active in musical comedies all through high school, he trained at the Cincinnati Conservatory and stayed on to teach at the Conservatory after graduating.
Tunstall ultimately moved to New York for awhile and went on the road with a production of "Smokey Joe's Caf," before returning home to resume his love of teaching. He began working in the school system, formed his own production company and opened a dance studio, as well as keeping an energetic schedule performing and directing with regional theaters throughout the Southeast.
Teaching is a profession that has also claimed Tim Herman's attention, in addition to his career as an actor. A native of New Jersey, he now lives in Manhattan -- right in Times Square. His whole career has been centered on the theater, as an actor, director and college professor. Commenting on his role in "Forever Plaid," Herman points out that although the show looks simple, it is really a very complex work. He first did the show in Paradise, Calif., in a run that kept getting extended -- and then extended again.
"The audiences love it, and I particularly like the ensemble feel of the production," says Herman. "It takes all four of us working closely together, and requires a combination of acting, singing and movement skills. Once we come on stage, we never leave -- it is exhausting, but very rewarding."
Chris Spaulding agrees with Herman's comments about the audience reaction.
"It's rare to find a show that can keep an audience so engrossed," says Spaulding. "There's no lag time; they pay attention throughout the show. The audience relates to the music or to the experiences that the characters have had during their lifetime, and there's a little bit of every audience member in any one of the four guys."
Spaulding, a graduate of Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va., performed in a production of "Forever Plaid" at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster, Pa., from mid-December last year through February.
"It's an 'Everyman' type of show," he says.
Completely absorbed in theater, Matthew Addison recently completed a run of "Forever Plaid" as part of the "Hot Summer Nights" at the Kennedy Theatre in Raleigh.
While his main focus is on performing, in addition he works in graphic design, marketing, stage and production management. His next stop after "Forever Plaid" is New York City, where he will be stage managing a show.
"This show is in a class by itself," Addison says. "You have to have four guys that really match, and I think we have come together very well. One reason it's important is because the audience is part of the show, as well as being spectators. We have to be so tight that when we welcome people from the audience on stage, it has to work. We play off each other and trust each other and our director."
It was a challenge for Tory Wright to fit into the quartet. However, "it feels great to be the new guy on the block," Wright says. "I have been busy dealing with continuity issues and learning the transitions. Most of all, I have been wrestling with keeping my focus and trying not to be an audience member on stage. The other three guys are so gifted, and they know the show so well, that sometimes it is tempting to just stop and watch them. It's wonderful to be able to perform with actors who are at the top of their level of performing."
Wright, a teacher in the Richmond County school system, was the choral director at Pinecrest High School from 1996-2004. In that capacity, he got to work with Rod Harter on the production of such shows as "My Fair Lady."
Harter, who is a founding member of Moore OnStage, was the person who encouraged Wright to be one of the "Forever Plaid" quartet. Moore County residents may remember Wright when he performed in the Sandhills Cabaret Theatre at the National Golf Club a few years ago.
"The entire cast is very talented," says Steven Menendez, who is overseeing the musical direction. "The guys are all high-energy and have a good understanding of what they are doing. Musically, they bring a fresh quality to the score. Audiences will recognize the style, even if they don't remember the individual selections."
Melvin Tunstall adds, "The show speaks to every generation. The audience can't help but have a good time."
Performances are at 7:30 p.m., on Sept. 8, 9, 14, 15, 16 and 17, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Sept. 10 and 17. Ticket prices are $18 for adults and $10 for students.
For information and reservations, call 255-0667.
Mary Elle Hunter is a Pinehurst freelance writer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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