Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Will Rogers Follies"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Beverly Creasey

Thigh Slappin’ Toe Tappin
"Will Rogers Follies" A Winner

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Who would figure that the best show of the summer would be in Waltham? And that "The Will Rogers Follies" would be that show? )I hated the Broadway version with Mac Davis.) I should have known. The Reagle Players’ "Annie" last summer was infinitely better than the recent Broadway revival. It’s no exaggeration to say that director Bob Eagle’s "Will Rogers Follies" outstrips the original by a country mile.

You need a crackerjack Will to carry the show and you need a director who knows how to stage a tongue-in-cheek extravaganza just like the Ziegfeld Follies of the ‘20s ... except a whole passel funnier. Reagle has a dynamo named Scott Wakefield who "fits the spotlight just fine" as the slow-talkin’, rope-twirlin’ part-Cherokee cowboy from Oklahoma ... and directing with Eagle is Eileen Grace who has choreographed and directed eleven touring companies of the show. She recreates Tommy Tune’s witty, original choreography to a "T". You won’t see better precision dancing anywhere, including Broadway.

Alsop in the Reagle production is the enchanting Danette Cuming, who toured nationally (as Mrs. Rogers) with Keith Carradine, Mac Davis, and Larry Gatlin opposite her. Dana Leigh Jackson rounds out the Broadway roster as "The Ziegfeld Girl" who introduces the show --- not to mention each scene --- from behind a strategically placed placard just big enough to hide what she hasn’t got on. Jackson made her Broadway debut in "The Will Rogers Follies"

Cy Coleman’s infectious music )with silly lyrics by Comden & Green) mimics Irving Berlin’s syncopated showtunes for the real Follies (Remember "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody"?). Imagine if you will a Wild West vaudeville show (with a scene-stealing dog to boot!) crossed with a Busby Berkeley revue, and you’ll have some idea of the spin Peter Stone put on the "follies" concept. Dozens of gorgeous gams float down a massive staircase --- but this time the concept doesn’t take itself seriously. The camp is at its best in the "cow-girl" production number where a dozen sexy dancers in very tight tights (spotted with guernsey markings and sporting little horns like crowns on their heads) swishing their little tails in time to the music. The toe-tapping production numbers manage to embrace nostalgia and parody at the same time. A neat trick to pull off.

Speaking of tricks, Wakefield as Will can execute a few dandy rope tricks while he’s singing and chewing gum! He’s one talented fella all right. And with Cummings as his Mrs., their romantic scenes are totally charming and ingenious. Reagle regular Harold Walker gets great mileage out of his comic role as Will’s cranky father --- and sundry other characters too. But the most delightful members of the Follies turn out to be The Madcap Mutts, who prance, jump through hoops and cut up behind trainer Tom Brackney’s back. Kudos, too, to Vince Felty as the professional roper, to Jeffrey Leonard and Julia Liu for their flawless musical direction, and to Kirsten Brant and the spectacular dancers who make the show soar.

"Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue" (till 9 August)
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM

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