Will Rogers Follies Oct. 1, 2005
Will Rogers Follies at Cerritos: Never Met a Show This Good I Didn’t Like
By Glen Creason
The first leg of the ballyhooed Broadway series came to the Performing Arts Center over the weekend with a sensationally big and beautiful production of “the Will Rogers Follies.” If the quality, care, color and scale of this show are a portent of things to come, locals are in for Broadway musicals the way they do them on the great White Way. There was plenty of talent, energy, fine songs, oodles of gorgeous girls and some wonderful dance numbers on the big stage. This was an extravaganza that appeared to spare no expense in delivering the Cy Coleman score and Betty Comden plus Adolph Green lyrics to this celebration of the life of American humorist Will Rogers. The show was in very good hands from the direction/choreography of Steven Minning, Tony Walton's inventive sets, Mike Baldasarri’s artful lighting and Willa Kim’s stupendous costuming.
Rogers had a gentle humor, an easy-going approach that made him welcomed all across America and his experiences and observations have a familiar ring today. Played subtly by F. Michael Zaller the show’s Rogers is a humble vaudevillian that rises to places never dreamt of in his Oklahoma youth where he was taunted for having Indian blood. The narrative takes us through his early years in Wild West Shows, middle American music halls and finally to the Ziegfeld Follies where Rogers ends up being a virtual comedian laureate of the United States. We see an America coming of age as does Will then follow the testing of character presented by the stock market crash and great depression that present a much more serious role for Rogers in bringing the spirits of the nation up. All of this is served up with heaping helpings of wit, lavish dance numbers filled with many sweet, young hoofers and some songs to remember. Amy Decker as Betty Blake Rogers lead the way with her solid soprano on “My Unknown Someone,” “My Big Mistake,” and the memorable “No Man Left for Me.” Zaller did a fine job throughout but particularly on the poignant “Look Around” that certainly rang true for today. Keleen Snowgren shone as the sexy but sharp Ziegfeld’s Favorite and Chris McDaniel was strong as Roger’s pop. The show was boosted also by two unexpected turns: the superb Joanne Wilson and her trained pups that delighted all and the master trick roping in day-glo glory of Texas Jack Fullbright. Each was a wonderful show within the already fine show. While the production has much to offer in song I confess I greatly enjoyed the spectacular numbers filled with flawless pulchritude as in “the Ziegfeld Follies,” “the Powder Puff Ballet” and the feast for the eyes of “Presents for Mrs. Rogers.” Each of the lovely ladies represented a jewel presented to Mrs. Rogers while wearing a gown of impressive construction. Thus presenting a magnificent tableaux that boggled the gentlemen in attendance. In the end however, it was the words and wisdom of Will Rogers that lingered longest. The finale of his premature death but undying love for Betty left the audience with an appreciation for the man beyond the dazzle and dance.