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Will Rogers talent endures in 'Follies'

Theater Review

June 02, 2010|By James Famera

Will Rogers wore many hats in his lifetime. He was an accomplished vaudeville performer, a popular silent film actor, a syndicated newspaper columnist, a radio personality, a comedian, a social commentator and the list goes on.

When his small-engine plane crashed in 1935, the nation mourned his untimely passing. Rogers was only 55. Rogers' life and art, however, lives on in Glendale Centre Theatre's "The Will Rogers Follies," an engrossing spectacle of colorful costumes and fabulous song-and-dance numbers, that's a treat for anyone unfamiliar with one of the country's most enduring talents.

Rogers' life is the focus of "The Will Rogers Follies," and everything from his childhood in rural Oklahoma all the way through his success as a headliner for the lavish Ziegfeld Follies are chronicled in big musical numbers.


The songs leave nothing to the imagination with easy titles like "It's A Boy" and "Marry Me Now," but the ensemble cast is nothing if not perfect. The real praise, however, must go to Angela Wood and her elaborate costumes. The Ziegfeld Follies, which ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1931, were known for their ornate attire, and Wood pays close attention to the detail. Whether it's with a skimpy outfit suitable for the bedroom or a sprawling evening dress, complete with a yellow cocktail hat and matching umbrella, Wood captivates the eyes with a nonstop explosion of radiance and color.

Anyone who's ever been to the Glendale Centre Theatre knows that the performers will often make their way to the circular stage by scampering up and down the aisle steps. Usually these performers are ignored, but on this particular evening all eyes were on them.

This isn't the first time Danny Michaels has portrayed Rogers on a Southern California stage. He's found his niche. He's charming even when he's not supposed to be, as when he casually winked after inserting a piece of stale bubble gum into his mouth after it had been sitting on a wooden post for more than an hour.

Rogers was known for his biting social commentary, some of which can seem dated 75 years later, but Michaels' seemingly improvised delivery made it seem fresh.

"My jokes don't hurt anybody. But with Congress, each time they make a joke, it's a law!"

This could have been in reference to the health-care reform bill that Congress passed in March, but Michaels was too coy to elaborate. Either way, the quip got a ton of laughs.

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