For every well-intentioned ingénue screen testing for a partially-scripted series on cable TV, for every seasoned guitar picker working a casino lounge, there is a northern Nevada senior citizen with as much talent in their little finger than there is collagen in Hollywood.
Such was evident at the Jan. 9 auditions for the annual Senior Follies at the Carson City Senior Citizens Center. About 30 men and women waited patiently for a chance to strut their stuff and earn a spot in this year’s show, featuring an Annie Oakley/Western theme. Director Norma Conway, a very youthful 60 with experience in theater, dance and volunteering, told the seniors she’s looking for fearless cast members who can cut a rug, sing and “scoot their tush … not risqué, but risky!”
First out of the gate was a quartet of velvet-voiced gentlemen—Harold Swafford, Dave Ramer, Jim Crowley and Rook Wetzel—who delivered a polished rendition of “Home on the Range” in unmistakable campfire-style with barbershop overtones. The performance prompted a rousing round of applause, hoots and whistles that would bring 71-year-old Ameriprise spokesman Dennis Hopper to bittersweet tears and make Wilford Brimley forget to check his blood sugar. After their top-this tune, the men—known collectively as The Wild Cards, with 18 months of experience rehearsing together—joked about being “39—twice!” and that “Jack Benny was my uncle.”
The Senior Follies auditions then turned toward the fairer sex.
“Hi, I’m Faye [Wheeler], and I’m going to try to do a Patsy Cline number,” she said, launching into the classic hit “Crazy,” while accompanying herself on piano. While both the talent and music hearkened back to a simpler time, some things actually do change: A cell phone went off during her solo. Without missing her mark, Wheeler, 72, returned to her table but hesitated when Conway asked if she was interested in the lead, saying that she’s already accepted another role, that of caring for her 92-year-old mother.
“I think it would be a little bit too much for me to memorize right now,” Wheeler said. Priorities shine brilliantly in the golden years.
Next, the dynamic duo of Sarah and Joe Dietsch pulled off a hilarious send-up of “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” that began with Sarah shouting, “Henry! There’s a hole in my bucket!” and ended with her feigning, “I’ll fix your hole!” Everyone roared as she chased him off-stage.
Then, the diminutive, “ageless” Lisa Smith commanded the piano. After her solo, she spoke of how long she’s tickled the ivories.
“Since I was a child,” Smith said. “I learned by ear. I play by ear.”
Carl “Cliff” Ott mesmerized listeners with a yarn by poet Robert Service that chronicled Yukon boomtown days and the shooting of “Dangerous” Dan McGrew, back when “the miners, the sourdoughs and the muckers” relied on storytelling as a remedy for a long day in the saddle. The time of trainrobbers and vigilantes taking justice into their own hands.
“When out of the night, which was 50 below, and into the din and the glare, there stumbled a miner, fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty and loaded for bear,” Ott recited.
The theme of tenacity is the true theme for the seniors in this show, with the lifetimes they’ve spent honing their respective crafts, as their own stories carry on into the future.