The man of a thousand ‘Plaids’ is behind San Diego Musical Theatre’s ‘Tidings’

The four actors in San Diego Musical Theatre's "Plaid Tidings."
Drew Bradford, left, Jonathan Sangster, Xavier J. Bush and Matt Ignacio star in San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Plaid Tidings,” opening Nov. 25.
(Courtesy of Mark Anthony Holmes)

Longtime San Diego resident David Humphrey has traveled North America to star in, and direct, the nostalgic Stuart Ross harmony revues


When San Diego Musical Theatre’s leaders chose “Plaid Tidings” for the company’s holiday show this year, they didn’t have to look far for the perfect stage director.

Local resident David Humphrey estimates he has appeared in both “Forever Plaid” and its holiday sequel “Plaid Tidings” more than 1,000 times since 1995. He has also directed both musicals and he runs a business that rents out the show’s plaid tuxedo costumes, props and scenic elements to theater companies around the country. Humphrey said his passion for “Plaid” has never dimmed.

David Humphrey is the director of San Diego Musical Theatre's "Plaid Tidings."
(Courtesy of David Humphrey)

“I love the heart behind it, the music behind it,” Humphrey said. “It tells such a great story of just a group of people who don’t quite fit into what people think is the norm in high school. I love the music so much and I love singing four-part harmony. But really the heart and nostalgia of the show is what it’s all about.”

Stuart Ross’ “Forever Plaid” premiered off Broadway in 1998. It’s about the Forever Plaid, a nerdy, behind-the-times men’s harmony quartet made up of high school buddies Sparky, Jinx, Smudge and Frankie. On the eve of their debut concert in February 1964, the Plaids are killed in a collision with a school bus (carrying Catholic teens to the Beatles’ U.S. TV debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show”). But thanks to an astral alignment, the men are resurrected for one night to put on the show they never got to perform in life. Ross also wrote “Plaid Tidings,” which premiered in 2001 at Pasadena Playhouse. It resurrects the quartet a second time to perform their long-dreamed-of Christmas show. Both shows feature a variety of pop, ballad and harmony songs from the 1950s and early ‘60s.

Born and raised in Cheyenne, Wyo., Humphrey said he fell in love with “Forever Plaid” as a college student in the early 1990s. Then in 1995, he was cast as Smudge in his first “Plaid” production in Colorado. After moving to Los Angeles a few years later, he landed a role in a long-running production of the show at San Diego’s Theatre in Old Town in 1998. He started out as a swing who could cover for the actors playing Smudge or Sparky, then took over the role of Sparky full-time and made San Diego his permanent home. Over the years, he continued to appear in productions all over the country, and after Ross wrote “Plaid Tidings,” Humphrey was cast in the show’s Pasadena and Vancouver productions.

The cast of San Diego Musical Theatre's "Plaid Tidings."
The cast of San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Plaid Tidings,” top to bottom, Xavier J. Bush, Drew Bradford, Matt Ignacio and Jonathan Sangster.
(Courtesy of Mark Anthony Holmes)

When longtime “Plaid” producer Kevin Traxler passed away in 2013, his widow offered Humphrey all the costumes, props and other “Plaid” items stored in their garage. That led to Humphrey starting his rental company named Sing or Swim, an homage to his longtime day job as the manager of Noonan Family Swim School in San Diego.

Humphrey said the key to casting “Plaid” productions is getting the vocal sound right and making sure the actors performances are rooted in truth: “The show is not a joke. Things happen that are funny but it’s not meant to be funny. It’s not about making it up or making shticky comments.”

Humphrey said he’s excited about the diverse cast he has assembled for the SDMT show: “They’re so fun and loving and the talent oozing out of them is so great.”

A week into rehearsals earlier this month, one of the roles had to be re-cast due to a performer falling ill. In cases like that, Humphrey said he can “call on the Plaid cosmos” of men who know these roles as intimately as he does and share the same affection for its characters.

“It’s definitely a tight-knit group. You build this family with these guys,” Humphrey said. “When we’d go out on tour and they’d give us our own dressing rooms, we’d all move into the same dressing room together because we didn’t want to be separated.”

‘Plaid Tidings’

When: Opens Nov. 25 and runs through Dec. 24. 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 4 p.m. Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays.

Where: SDMT Stage, 4650 Mercury St., San Diego

Tickets: $40 and up

Phone: (858) 560-5740