Ziegfeld Follies reborn

Chico State’s huge production of The Will Rogers Follies

SHOWSTOPPER Zigfeld showgirls (l-r) Carly Seward, Se’sha Zinn, and Emily McKibben with director Joel Rogers.

SHOWSTOPPER Zigfeld showgirls (l-r) Carly Seward, Se’sha Zinn, and Emily McKibben with director Joel Rogers.

Will Rogers. You had to love him. The simplicity, the humor, the word spinning and rope twirling that carried him from his birth in 1879 in the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma territory to fame in stage, film and radio.

The daily words of homespun wisdom in the nation’s newspapers that were read by millions during the first third of the 20th century made him an icon to the common man and ultimately an adviser to presidents and ambassador to the world.

Words like, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Words like, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.” Words like, “Diplomats are just as essential to starting a war as soldiers are for finishing it.”

Or, “It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”

Chico State University’s spring musical, The Will Rogers Follies, based on Rogers’ life, opens next Wednesday, May 2, at Laxson Auditorium and continues May 3, 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 6, at 2 p.m.

Joel P. Rogers, new head of the Chico State Theatre Arts Department, making his directorial debut with this production, declares, “It is fast, colorful, tuneful, unabashed entertainment—the Ziegfeld Follies reborn. I wanted to do a big dance musical, and this show fits perfectly. It’s a dazzler.”

Set in the 1930s, it’s a combination Broadway musical and Wild West show, with beautiful showgirls in lavish costumes, dancing cowboys and cowgirls, rope spinning, and dogs flying through the air.

Written for Broadway by Peter Stone, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune, The Will Rogers Follies swept the 1991 Tony Awards, winning in six categories: best musical, best director, best costume and lighting design, best choreography and score.

The concept is simple: Legendary impresario Florenz Ziegfeld has revived his follies to salute a legendary star, Will Rogers, who takes us on a tour of his life and times in one sparkling number after another. It touches on all aspects of Rogers’ life: his cowboy performances, his sweet, lifelong romance with his wife Betty, his climb to fame, and his fascination with flying. That final fascination leads to his death in 1935 in an Alaskan plane crash with his friend and pilot, Wiley Post, a poignant moment in the “follies.”

The Chico State production features Jarrod L. Rothstein as Will Rogers and Ryan Beattie as Betty Blake Rogers. Also in key roles are Carly Seward and Cory Ryan, and a host of cowboys, cowgirls, and showgirls round out the large cast.

The show features sets by theater arts designer Mark Beal, in his last work before leaving Chico State to move across the country. His 32-foot staircase provides a stunning background for the showgirls, with the glam and pizzazz of the big ‘30s musicals. Some 150 costumes have been built by Sandy Burton and her assistants for this production, requiring “probably two million sequins,” says Barton. “But I think the audience will enjoy the cowboy/cowgirl outfits as much as the glitzy Las Vegas creations,” she adds.

Visiting choreographer Candace B. Oertling has created extravagant musical-comedy dance numbers that will be showstoppers, Rogers says, and a big, jazzy pit band conducted by maestro Kyle Wiley Pickett, conductor of the North State Symphony, will provide the Western-swing/ big-band-influenced music, playing such tunes as “Give a Man Enough Rope,” “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” and “Heading for a Wedding.”

Director Rogers, who comes to Chico from North Carolina, sums up: “We have a huge group of incredibly talented people coming together to create what I hope will be a very entertaining experience for our audience. I couldn’t have asked for a better show to start off with.”

Advance tickets are available in Chico at the University Box Office, 898-6333, Chico Mall Information Booth, Terrace Pharmacy, Java Joe, Diamond W. Western Wear, The Creative Apple, and in Paradise at the House of Color. Call 898-4325 for information regarding disability-related accommodations.