The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
The Will Rogers Follies
YouTube Summer 2020
On Broadway 1991-1993,
this show aimed no higher or lower than to be a big, brassy,
colourful, tuneful and entertaining Broadway musical, and it
succeeded. It was not one for the ages, but it was a thoroughly
entertaining couple of hours, and this recording made for Japanese
television captures all its charm.
It certainly has an
pedigree: music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph
Green, book by Peter Stone, direction and choreography by Tommy Tune,
sets by Tony Walton and even the recorded voice of Gregory Peck.
One hundred years ago
Will Rogers was one of the most famous people on earth, a star
entertainer on stage, film, radio and even newspaper columns. A
homespun monologist, his wry commentary on current events – he
frequently carried the day's newspaper onstage to quip about it –
anticipated the topical opening monologues of some TV chat show
For a decade he was the
star and centrepiece of the
annual Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, and the premise of this show is
that his life story is being told as Florenz Ziegfeld might have
produced it – with lavish staging, song and dance, big production
numbers and, of course, lots of pretty girls.
As Keith Carradine as
Rogers says, 'It's a whole lot more theatrical than the way I
actually lived it.'
The razzle-dazzle pauses
from time to time to
allow Carradine to stand alone onstage and say things like 'In Russia
they don't have income tax. They don't have income neither,' and 'You
folks ever notice that the President only wears glasses when
he's delivering a speech? It's because he's never seen it before.'
Rogers's story –
Oklahoma farm boy hooks up with wild west show,
starts telling jokes between his lasso tricks, moves up to vaudeville
and then Broadway and beyond – is told more-or-less accurately,
subject only to the interruptions of Florenz Ziegfeld (Peck's voice)
insisting, for example, that chronology be manipulated so the big
wedding scene can be the first act finale.
Keith Carradine, best
known perhaps for a key role in the film Nashville, proves to have
real star quality. He sings pleasantly, moves with a dancer's grace,
has loads of charm and effortlessly owns the stage. He even manages
to carry the aw-shucks just-an-ol'-farmboy characterisation a lot
longer than you'd think possible.
The other star of the
director-choreographer Tommy Tune who seems to have set himself the
challenge of finding as many unexpected variations on Broadway
dancing as possible. There is, inevitably but beautifully, a
Ziegfeld-style parade of extravagantly-dressed chorus girls, but
there is also a number built on disembodied dancing cowboy boots.
number has people dancing on their knees, another on their backs, and
another is largely a matter of rhythmic thigh-slapping, while my
favourite has Carradine and the chorus girls sitting in a line for a
rapid and intricate dance entirely of their hands and arms.
from the chronology and the fact that we are alerted from the
beginning about when and how Rogers will die (a plane crash in 1935),
the only hint of drama the book offers is the half-hearted suggestion
that Rogers's stardom might have put some strain on his marriage –
a darkness the musical denies as soon as it raises it.
largely a one-man-plus-chorus show, but there is solid support from
Dee Hoty as Mrs. Rogers, Dick Latessa as Will's father and others,
and Cady Huffman as a jill-of-all-trades chorus girl. There's even a
trained-dog act (Don't ask).
As is almost inevitably
musicals, the show begins to run out of steam toward the end, and you
can almost spot the moment when, after several out-of-town rewrites,
they decided it wasn't going to get any better and they'd have to
make do with what they had.
But you'll enjoy a couple of hours in Keith Carradine's company and you'll want to go back and replay a couple of those very inventive dance sequences.
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