For gay Fort Worth native Guy Stroman, a ‘Forever Plaid’ homecoming is always special
JONANNA WIDNER | Contributing Writer
In many ways, Guy Stroman’s story is the quintessential Fort Worth tale. He grew up a typical Cowtown kid, attending Eastern Hills High School and graduating from TCU with a dual major in German and literature. He never thought much about theater as an option. It wasn’t until after auditioning, on a whim, for a spot in the old Southern Palace shows at Six Flags that he caught the bug.
“I saw a poster at TCU for auditions at some place called Six Flags Over Texas,” Stroman recalls with a laugh.
“I’d never seen a show there, I didn’t know anybody there. I was a junior in college, and I just went to the audition the next day.”
From there, he moved on to Dallas Summer Musicals, and the rest is history. But this isn’t a Local Boy Makes Good story. It’s more like a Local Boy Kicks Ass story.
Stroman left Fort Worth for New York in 1979, on the heels of his DSM stint as Noodler in Peter Pan. (It was on that show he met the woman who would become his best friend: Sandy Duncan — Stroman is godfather to Duncan’s children.) In NYC, he and some friends got together and worked on a labor of love: a musical about a ’60s-era four-part harmony vocal group, all of whose members perish in an accident just before their first paid gig. The resulting piece, Forever Plaid, has become one of the most popular musicals in history.
The story of Forever Plaid isn’t just the history of a show; it’s an example of the work and time it takes to create something that resonates. Stroman had already been in New York for 10 years when he hooked up with James Raitt, who is responsible for the music for the production, and other writers and cast members. Stroman began working with them to develop the characters, who return, via a bit of magic, to fulfill their dream by finally performing the lost concert. What ensues is a celebration of a singular era of American music.
While it runs an hour-and-a-half now, has spawned sequels and spin-offs, and is a perennial favorite nationwide, Forever Plaid started much more humbly.
“We were all doing other shows,” says Stroman. “And we started rehearsing this piece to put a version of it together at a theater at 72nd Street in New York.”
Within three weeks, the gang had about 50 minutes of material. The group would stage that version on Monday nights — after working an entire day in other shows.
“We built a great fan base and word-of-mouth,” Stroman says. “We were pretty much developing characters on [the show’s] feet, in front of an audience. I guess our hearts were all young and fearless at the time.”
The dedication has paid off. Word-of-mouth led to recognition. Producer Gene Walsh saw the show and gave the group an open-ended off-Broadway contract. “From there, we started winning awards and garnering acclaim,” Stroman says. As regional theater companies began springing up all over the country, Forever Plaid became a particular favorite nationwide.
The appeal of Forever Plaid is that it harkens to a unique musical era, and also touches on compelling themes.
“It has this great music from the late ’50s and early ’60s. Not doo-wop per se, but those great sort of orchestral songs, and those novelty songs,” Stroman says. “Parents and children listened to the same music back then. All those great artists like Perry Como or the Four Lads. Plus it becomes a very universal story of ‘What would you do if you had a chance to go back?’”
Stroman was the first to bring Forever Plaid to Casa Manana at the behest of the great Van Kaplan (who could say no to him?). The original Casa run was supposed to be two weeks, but was bumped up to three before moving to Casa on the Square. There it stayed for close to four years.
“Fort Worth got the show at first with the original four guys because of my involvement,” Stroman says. “I wanted to do it because it’s my hometown. I wanted to do it because my parents had never seen it!”
For this weekend’s go-around, Stroman will be directing and choreographing a three-day gala production to support a cornerstone of Fort Worth culture: The Casa Kids program.
Even though Forever Plaid has been running for 20 years, Stroman knows it resonates with audiences for the very reasons why Casa Manana itself has remained such a pillar of North Texas culture.
“We still like to go sit in the dark and be told good stories by good people,” he says. “And that’s the basis of this one.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 31, 2013.