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

The first show of Reagle Players 38th season is "The Will Rogers Follies". The show is a lavish, dance filled and melodic look at the life of America's great star, Will Rogers as the famed Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld might have told it. Ziegfeld was the showman of the early twentieth century who was know for "glorifying the American girl". He used 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. Throw in more than a few Ziegfeld spectacles, tuneful songs, lavish dances, leggy showgirls, a love interest, sweet faced youngsters (the Rogers brood), an entire pink costumed number with dozens of girls seductively draped across a giant staircase and a Ziegfeld sized lace wedding veil filling the entire stage. Beautifully directed by Robert Eagle and Eileen Grace, the cast delivers the goods in this topnotch entertainment extravaganza that takes you back to the good old days. And the audience of today enjoys it because Will Roger's philosophy espouses respect and confidence in your fellow man which is sadly lacking in today's world and this audience gives this show the well deserved standing ovation it so richly deserves.

The script by Peter Stone was inspired by the words of Will & Betty Rogers and two of the songs "Never Met A Man" and "Give a Man Enough Rope" are parables from Rogers own mouth while Cy Coleman wrote the music and Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the lyrics. Robert and Eileen cast the show superbly. Eileen also recreates Tommy Tune's original choreography for the show and Reagle Players also obtained the original set and costumes for this show, too. The staircase is the whole width of the stage and is ten steps high while the lavish Follies costumes are magnificent and breathtaking. The musical director Paul Katz does an excellent job with all the numbers and his orchestra sounds great, too. All the ingredients for this are mixed together wonderfully and the lighting by David Wilson not only on the stage but on the stairway is topnotch with every color imaginable. The splendid mixture of comedy and pathos is the sign of a well done show.

The cast is lead by Scott Wahle, CBS4's weekday news anchorman. His portrayal of Will Rogers is not only humorous but heartfelt, too. The first act is fun filled spectacle while the second act captures the warmth and poignancy of this well loved man. Scott is dynamite in this role whether he is spinning his rope or telling his homespun tales. His songs include "Give a Man Enough Rope", "So Long Pa", "Look Around" (a song about ecology) and "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like". The show stopping number in this show is the song and dance number Scott does with the chorus girls called "Favorite Son" where they turn their heads, hands, arms and legs in perfect unison. Another gorgeous Follies number is the jewel dance by the girls while Scott sings "Presents for Mrs. Rogers". The accomplishments of Will Rogers as a multimedia sensation include his daily newspaper column, 365 times a year, performing a weekly radio show as well as starring in motion pictures becoming the highest earning performer of his day. Scott captures the essence of this extraordinary man and gives a spectacular performance while doing so.

Broadway's Sarah Pfisterer plays Betty Blake Rogers, Will's long suffering wife who endures show biz to be with the man she loves.The beautiful blond haired Sarah's gorgeous voice can be heard in the pretty ballads "My Unknown Someone" and "My Big Mistake" but it is "No Man Left for Me", the torch song which she sings in the second act that will astound you with her powerful delivery. She also does "Big Time" with Scott and Ari Shaps, Zoe Virant, Leo Hattabaugh and Sam Blumenfeld, the four talented youngsters who play their children in the show. Sarah prowess shines through in this role as she advances from ingenue lead to a more adult one.(Sarah won the IRNE award last year for playing Julie in "Carousel" and Maria in "The Sound of Music".) Reprising Z's Favorite, her starring role on the First National tour for this show is Dana Leigh Jackson. She also played the role for Reagle Players in 1997 and made her Broadway debut in this show in 1991. Her character is the leading dancer of the show who Mr. Ziegfeld is having a fling with and she appears in almost every scene. Dana Leigh is a statuesque blonde who is not only gorgeous but a fabulous dancer, too. She taps, does ballet, does a split as well as many other dances excellently. Dana Leigh leads the chorus in the opening number, "Willamania" and she gets the audience in the spirit of the lavish spectacle to follow. (Haven't seen Dana in almost 20 years when we performed in summer stock at Theatre by the Sea in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" together and just found out she is married to Mark Davidson and they have an 8 year old son, Jeffrey Chace.) The person with some of the funniest one liners in the show is Harold Walker who plays Clem Rogers, Will's father. The character is a curmudgeon who truly loves his son but doesn't show it till Act 2 in a poignant scene after the stock market crash. Harold as Clem also comments on how cheap Ziegfeld is by having him play many different roles in the show which leads to many. The dancing girls and wranglers do a bang up job in the show as does Joanne Wilon and he canine friends and Chris McDaniel, the expert roper who does many tricks with his rope. So for a musical extravaganza that the whole family will enjoy, be sure to catch "The Will Rogers Follies" at Reagle Players. Tell them Tony sent you and you will meet you show you will definitely like.

"The Will Rogers Follies" (22 June - 1 July)
Waltham High School, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM MA
1 (781) 891-5600

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