But the cameras and television monitors, boom microphones, and celebrity audience members -- Melissa Manchester, Kate Linder, Traci Bingham, Rose Marie and JoAnne Worley -- remind you that you're on a Hollywood soundstage watching the filming of Forever Plaid: The Movie. The much-loved off-Broadway musical was filmed in front of an enthusiastic audience earlier this month in Los Angeles for a limited theatrical release (and later DVD release) for Spring 2009. But Stuart Ross, the show's creator and film's director, wanted to make sure the big screen treatment will stay true to the work's innocent roots, down to recreating the intimate nightclub atmosphere.
The story follows a 1960s quartet of close harmony singers who, on their way to their first real gig, are wiped out by a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls (who are, ironically, on their way to see the Beatles). Forty years later, the group is brought back to earth for one night to perform the show they never got a chance to perform in life.
The film stars three of the show's four original cast members, Larry Raben as Sparky, David Engel as Smudge, and Stan Chandler as Jinx, along with Jersey Boys star Daniel Reichard as Frankie (a role originally played by Guy Strohman), while David Hyde Pierce will provide the narration.
"We've all wanted this to happen for a long time," says Raben. "Back when we were at the Cannon Theatre in L.A., there was brief talk about making a film and then a TV series, but that was very early on in the process, before it had fully played itself out theatrically. So Stuart sat on the rights, and about four years ago Benni Korzen, our producer, started making overtures. Finally, Stuart said it was time. We're so excited."
For Reichard, a newcomer to the project, taking on the role of Frankie has been as demanding as it has been rewarding. "I've had virtually no rehearsal for it," he says, "and I had to learn the show by myself. I would have a pair of headphones on and I would drill myself. It's been so fun because all that time when I was studying, I would listen to their work and I felt like I knew them. And we have become very fast friends. But a lot of this film is about these three guys and what they created."
Chandler says the stage-to-screen transition has created some unexpected challenges. "The intimacy of the play lends itself to the scaling back for the camera because that's how we started, in a small cabaret space in Manhattan," he notes. "But, it is kind of weird to have that camera on a jib arm come swooping into your face and pull back and do all those old TV show kind of things. So you find yourself making slightly different kinds of choices, because you don't want to look right in the camera."
The film will serve both as a celebration as well as an education of the show's legacy, says Raben. "What we're hoping now is that because the show has been out there for awhile now -- and so many high schools and colleges and community theatres have experienced what a pleasure it is to do this show -- we hope there's an audience that says, I'd like to see what those guys did originally.'"