“The Will Rogers Follies,” at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre through Nov. 9, is a quirky show, but a delightfully fun and poignant one as well.
Mix the plainspoken Oklahoman Will (“I never met a man I didn’t like.”) Rogers with the glitz and glamour of the Ziegfeld Follies.
Rogers (1875 - 1935) played with perfection by Michael Santora, was a headliner with the follies for many years, as well as a vaudeville performer.
The cowboy humorist went on to be a newspaper columnist, a radio personality and a movie actor.
His common - or maybe it’s uncommon - decency was his calling card. Rogers could chide the rich and powerful in ways that made perfect sense. He never sounded sanctemonious, but was plenty funny.
When he died in a plane accident at 55 with famed aviator, Wiley Post, the nation mourned deeply.
The show, beautifully directed and choreographed by Ann Nieman, uses the chorus girls and boys as entertainment, giving the show plenty of well done, snazzy production numbers with glamorous costumes and humor. Nieman’s choreography is fantastic.
As odd as it is, the numbers work surprisingly well in telling his life story.(Kudos to Cy Coleman (music), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics) and Peter Stone (book).
One number, “Favorite Son” (Rogers ran for president in 1928) is a marvel, as the cast sits in a long row, donning and doffing their hats at breakneck speed as they finger
tap each other. It’s got to be seen to be believed. Wow.
The show revels in breaking down the fourth wall. Rogers and several other characters talk directly to the audience. A tall, sexy follies girl, known as Ziegfeld’s Favorite (Corinne Holland), tells Rogers’ wife, Mary Blake (Melissa Whitworth) that she is her understudy. The interplay between them is priceless.
Whitworth has a knockout voice and great chemistry with Santora.
Jim Moyer, who plays Rogers’ dad, Clem, constantly complains about how cheap the producers are because he’s got to play all kinds of other roles.
And Rogers has quick interactions throughout the show with Post (Bobby Becher) about their doomed flight.
Santora does rope tricks as did Rogers, and they are impressive, but Sam Arlen, a chorus member, shows off his rope skills and it is amazing to see..
The show has plenty of ties to vaudeville and the specific rules of a Ziegfeld Follies show. For example, Rogers and Blake must have a huge wedding scene at the end of Act I even though the couple actually eloped seven years earlier. No matter, the voice from above (meant to be Florenz Ziegfeld but sounding a lot like Gerry Konjura) demands they have their elaborate wedding scene.
The production values here are solid, especially John P. White’s costume design. It is both off the wall in those production numbers and perfectly set to the times.
Ultimately, it takes a terrific Will Rogers to make “The Will Rogers Follies” work.This Dutch Apple production has one. Santora has a charm that feels real, the smile on his face throughout the show feels real too. You might just believe he never met a man he didn’t like.