Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Will Rogers Follies"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2006 by Tony Annicone

"The Will Rogers Follies"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Company Theatre's summer show is "The Will Rogers Follies" which ran for 983 performances and won 6 Tony Awards. The show is a lavish, dance filled and melodic look at the life of America's greatest star of the early twentieth century, Will Rogers as the famed impresario Florenz Ziegfeld might have told it. Ziegfeld was a famous showman at the beginning of the last century who was known for "glorifying the American girl". He use leggy chorines dressed-to-the-nines in elegantly beaded costumes descending staircases with graceful abandon. The plot of the show also includes the inspirational life story and homespun philosophy of America's most beloved humorist and political satirist. In fact, Will Rogers became more popular than Shirley Temple. Throw in more than a few Ziegfeld spectacles, tuneful songs, lavish dances, leggy showgirls, a love interest, sweet faced youngsters (the Rogers brood), an elegantly costumed number with a dozen girls seductively draped across a giant staircase and a Ziegfeld sized wedding veil filling the entire staircase. With excellent direction by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, fabulous music direction by Michael Joseph and topnotch choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest, the show is a tribute to the enormous extravaganzas of the early 20th century and Company Theatre spares no expense in this show with their fantastic 20 piece orchestra, lush costumes and sets. All their hard work pays off with a multitalented cast earning a well deserved standing ovation at the close of the show. Company Theatre always does quality work and this show is another feather in their cap. Bravo.

Zoe and Jordie block the show beautifully and make each scene flow into the next smoothly. The main set is a staircase with 7 steps that is the length of the stage while many backdrops and set pieces depict the Follies, Clem Rogers ranch in Oklahoma, a Wild West Show, Vaudeville and the moon. Michael Joseph conducts his huge orchestra wonderfully and taught the cast the intricate harmonies in their songs. The Peter Stone script was inspired by the words of Will and Betty Rogers and two of the songs "Never Met A Man" and "Give a Man Enough Rope" are parables from Rogers own mouth with the music by Cy Coleman and the lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Sally's inventive choreography includes the breathtaking Follies numbers where the girls parade about as well as spectacular tap, soft shoe and kick line numbers while the hambone number was taught by Michael Hammond who plays the enormous role of Will Rogers. This role calls for an actor who can get the audience into the palm of his hand with his expert jokes and storytelling because he speaks directly to them from the stage. Michael far surpasses their expectations by far by capturing the very essence of this famous man. His voice sells his many songs including "Give a Man Enough Rope'', "So Long Pa" , "So Long Pa", the poignant ballad "Look Around" ( a song about ecology) and "Never Me a Man I Didn't Like" with the whole cast in the background while film of the real Will Rogers plays on a screen behind them. This last number tugs your heartstrings with its warmth and sincerity. However the show stopping number of the evening is the song and dance number Michael does with the chorus girls called "Favorite Son" where they all sit on the stairs and turn their heads, arms, hands and legs in perfect unison. Another gorgeous Follies number is the jewel dance by six girls clad in gowns covered by jewelry while Michael sings "Presents for Mrs. Rogers" from sitting on top of a piano. Michael shows how Will Rogers became a multimedia sensation with his strong acting prowess. Rogers many accomplishments included his daily newspaper column, 365 days a year, performing a weekly radio show as well as starring in motion pictures to become the highest earning performer of his day. Michael displays this man's greatness while he still remained a humble down to earth person who was loved by the whole country. Kudos on a job very well done.

Ann McCoy, a beautiful blonde, plays Will Rogers long suffering wife, Betty who endures his working in show business but continues stay married to be with the man she loves. Her gorgeous singing voice is heard in "My Unknown Someone", "My Big Mistake" and "Without You". However it is the 11 o'clock number of this show called "No Man Left For Me" which is Betty's lament of having to compete with Will's public schedule that brings the house down. This hot torch song is dynamite as Ann sits on top of a piano and belts it out to the appreciative crowd. She also does "Big Time" with Michael and Christopher Feth, Kayleigh Cyr, Jessy Rowe and Haley Miller, the four talented youngsters who play their children in the show who can sing, dance and twirl a rope, too. Playing Ziegfeld's Favorite is tall, statuesque Samantha brior-jones who appears in almost every scene of the show. She excels at this role playing this sexy gal who can dance up a storm. Her on pointe dance segment is breathtaking and she sustains it for quite a long time. Samantha is fantastic in this role stealing many a scene with a wink, a glance at the audience. She leads the chorus in the opening number Will-a-mania with her belting voice, getting the audience in the spirit of the lavish Follies spectacle to follow. Dan Moore plays the curmudgeon, Clem Rogers, Will's dad who thinks that he will never amount to anything. He has some of the funniest one liners in the show but also has a poignant moment in the stock market crash scene. The girls and the four cowboys do a great job as does Joanne Wilon and her canine friends. Marc Ewart who also plays the stage manager in the show, does some elaborate rope tricks in Act 2 with glow in the dark orange rope performed under black lights with the other four cowboys doing twirling and dancing behind him. So for a family style musical extravanganza in a beautiful air-conditioned theatre, be sure to catch "The Will Rogers Follies", a Broadway style show right here in MA.

"The Will Rogers Follies" (28 July - 20 August)
COMPANY THEATRE
30 Accord Park Drive, NORWELL MA
1 (781) 871-2787

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