Will Rogers, cowboy, writer, humorist, political pundit, and motion picture actor, was an iconic figure in the early 20th century. Known for his famous line, I never met a man I didn’t like, Rogers had that rare gift of looking at life and politics from the perspective of the common man and poking it with a stick until its flaws and hypocrisy lay exposed for all to see.
He did this with never a trace of meanness or vulgarity. His honest, homespun philosophy and timeless wit are still entertaining and often as spot on as they were decades ago.
The Georgetown Palace Theatre’s production of The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue, written by Peter Stone, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, and directed by Mary Ellen Butler, tries to capture the romance and glamour of the Ziegfeld Follies heyday when Will Rogers was a major star and entertainer. They take a big step toward doing that. Unfortunately, the Palace stage makes it particularly challenging. As regular Palace patrons know, it was formerly a movie theatre and as is
characteristic of the design of movie theatres in that era, the stage is small. With that said, the director, choreographer, and talented performers give it their all to rise above those limitations.
The play highlights parts of Rogers’s life from the age of 19 when he went off to be a cowboy in Argentina through his death in an airplane accident in Alaska at the age of 55. While it highlights his years as an entertainer especially in the Ziegfeld Follies hey-day of the 1920’s, we see snippets of Will’s early days with the traveling shows to his days as a movie star and political pundit of sorts.
Two members of the cast are particularly memorable. Cliff Butler who captures that easy-going quality of Will Rogers as he ambles onstage and looks directly at the audience as he imparts his timeless words of wisdom. While it is hard to project the charisma of a character such as Will Rogers, Butler delivers a solid performance and his rope handling tricks were a surprise!
Patty Rowell did a knockout job as Betty Rogers. Her musical talent and acting skill resulted in a memorable performance! Making the audience fall in love with her just as much as Will did. Rowells grace under pressure shows even when there were technical difficulties during her performance she rolled along with the show and keep the ship afloat.
However there were major areas of the show that lack polish and elegance that are a signature of the Ziegfeld Follies. There was many times where the choreography that appeared well prepared by Broadway veterans Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique seemed under rehearsed and not well prepared on the part of the dancers. Leaving the chorus a meddled ball of confusion in areas of the show, however when the girls were in sync the show was incredible. A lot of this could be attributed to opening night jitters.
While both the choreography and costumes were the best I have seen at The Palace, it was a challenging production. While it may have struggled in places to reach the expectations of the audience, it delivered an entertaining show. To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, I never met a show I didn’t like (at least a little).
The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue will be at The Georgetown Palace Theatre July 5 through August 4, 2013. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 pm and Sunday performances are at 2:00 pm. For ticket information and prices, go to http://www.georgetownpalace.com We give this show 3 out of 5 stars.