Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Will Rogers Follies"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark


"The Will Rogers Follies"

Book by Peter Stone
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Stage Director Raymond J. Possick
Music Direction by Sandra Bailey Kendall
Choreography by Michael Hogman

Set Design by John Kim
Lighting Design by Jerry Donham
Costumes Design by Emily Rapley
Stage Manager Marsha Jackson

Clem Rogers......................James Grana
Will Rogers.......................Paul Murphy
Betty Blake Rogers......Carolyn Coogan
Mary Rogers........................Olivia Wise
Freddy Rogers...................Luke Paulino
James Rogers........................Jake Green
Will Rogers Jr. ............Will Morningstar
Cowgirl............................Kathy Rogers
Wiley Post...................Michael Hogman
Mr Z's Voice..........Raymond J. Possick
Emerald...........................Jennifer Smith
Diamond............................Hayley Goff
Saphire...........................Rachel Dudley
Topaz...........................Denise Rodman
Pearl/Z's Favorite.........Yolanda LeRoy
Ruby..........................................Jessica
Additional Women's Ensemble
Suze Trevithick, Winnie Henchey
Men's Ensemble
Rob Cesari, Kevin Kate, Dennis Falwell, Anthony Consolo

ORCHESTRA
Conductor/Piano.......Sandra Bailey Kendall
Bass........................................Frank Toppa
Banjo/Guitar....Norma Daoust/Ross Adams
Reeds......Arthur Bakopolus/Jerry Vegmola
Synthesizer...............................Mario Cruz
Percussion...............................Deb Dirmeir

To give Paul Murphy his due, it's a lot harder to play innocent, unassuming charm than it is cussedness. Murphy's Will Rogers was a man whose warmly wry commentary on the day's news, both on radio and on stage, combined political satire and improv decades ahead of their time, but only two deathless quotes survive: "I never met a man I didn't like" and "I belong to no organized political party; I'm a Democrat." Murphy is left the thankless task of reminding people who Will was ("my 5000th performance in the Ziegfeld Follies"; six older, unmarried sisters; father of four) while getting out of the way when scads of girls in scads of scanties overflow the stage.

"Will Rogers Follies" is, frankly, a mishmash. The star is a man who refused to take himself seriously, action is continually interrupted by the voice of Flo Ziegfeld's ghost complaining that the show is boring, and Rogers' life story is continually interrupted by parades and dances by pretty girls or a cowboy quartet. There is both much too little and much too much. To my mind, this Arlington Friends of The Drama production's strengths are James Grana as curmudgeonly Clem Rogers (Will's dad), John Kim's continually surprising sets --- and all those pretty girls.

John Kim provided the small Arlington Friends' stage with four pivoted panels that swivel around to reveal new backgrounds for periods in Rogers' life, and a staircase down which a slow cascade of pulchritude or a fast prance of dancers can flow. Emily Rapely's costumes emphasize lovely legs, and choreographer Michael Hogman sees to it they get plenty of use. The work of musical director Sandra Bailey Kendall (conducting from the piano a six-piece orchestra with a glittering flute section) gets stronger throughout the show and includes several rarely heard surprises, such as Carolyn Coogan's torch song "No Man Left for Me" as Rogers' neglected wife Betty.

Any show with the word "Follies" in it demands spectacle, and Arlington does so in a sort of low-budget manner. The sextet of chorines (Jennifer Smith, whose smile lights the stage even from the back row, sorted out the names for me) are at their most elegant as those gems that were "Presents for Mrs. Rogers" but they doubled as Will's six sisters and then as Betty's six sisters, got diaphanous for the "Powder Puff Ballet" and performed choreography restricted to the arms in "Our Favorite Son."

Jim Grana as third banana is even given a solo turn in which he states he "won't turn loveable until Act Two" so, of course, he steals every scene that's not nailed down. There is nothing more charismatic than a curmudgeon. Add to that the fact that Paul Murphy's Will has most of his conversations with the audience rather than other cast members, and you can see his problems. He's even given a quartet of children to compete with! All in all, in this mishmash of a show, it's a wonder Will Rogers remains the star of "The Will Rogers Follies."

Love,
===Anon.


"The Will Rogers Follies" (13 - 22 April)
ARLINGTON FRIENDS OF THE DRAMA
22 Academy Street, ARLINGTON, MA
1 (781) 646-5922
www.afdtheatre.org


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