The Will Rogers Follies” takes audiences back to a time when a solid hit musical didn’t lean on falling chandeliers and gigantic flying tires. The show makes its mark with triple-threat performers, engaging subject matter and a 24 -carat performance by Keith Carradine.
Offered within the glitzy T&A context of the Ziegfeld Follies, “Will Rogers” takes a look at the life of the vaudeville and film star,
humorist, journalist and friend of presidents.
From his early days with his father (George Riddle) and six sisters to his rise as a performer, through his death in a plane crash with aviator Wiley Post, Carradine wisely chooses to present the essence of the original rather than replicate him, as James Whitmore did in “Will Rogers Tonight.”
Carradine’s seemingly effortlessvocals engulf the audience, contributing to his ease in the role; watching Carradine is like watching an old friend enjoying himself.
Dee Hoty portrays Will’s wife Betty as a strong but resilient woman who is ready to share her husband with the world.
Her belting voice is at home with the Cy Coleman-Betty Comden-Adolph Green score, whether the song is a love ballad or a bluesy torch turn. Insightful and vibrant, Hoty’s characterization displays a delightfully buoyant sense of humor.
Traditional show business advice is to never go on stage with children or animals, but in “Follies” the advice is ignored — a good thing, too.
The Rogers clan consists of precocious kids (Eric Goldin, Moriah (Shining Dove) Snyder, Christy Romano and Tohomas O’Connell II) who match their sire in showmanship; contributing to the fun are the playful antics of Bob & Jeanne Moore’s Wild West Show Dogs.
Director-choreographer Tommy Tune mounts a show that is 100% escapism — a breath of fresh air.
His leggy chorines perform dance after dance with Tune’s particular high-stepping hallmark of brilliance.
Of particular note in the ensemble is Leigh Zimmerman as Ziegfeld’s Favorite, who shakes, sings, shimmies and dances up a storm, all the while flirting with Carradine and the audience.
Technically, the show is top-drawer, with no signs of being “on the road.” Tony Walton’s set and drop designs, coupled with Willa Kim’s outrageous costumes and Jules Fisher’s lush lighting, achieve a level of opulence that would make Ziegfeld proud.