‘Will Rogers Follies’ Not a Masterpiece, but It Has Its Charm
By Anthony Del Valle
By ANTHONY DEL VALLE
I got lulled into “The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue” halfway through. There’s something about the soft, steady flow of elegance that keeps you smiling.
The 1991 musical pays tribute to the folksy commentator in the style of a Florenz Ziegfeld extravaganza. That is, long, leggy numbers are often interrupted by jokes of wisdom by our star (Michael Brown), infiltrated by scenes of family and hearth. The approach tells us more about Ziegfeld than it does Rogers. The script never gets to the meat of the man, a beloved icon known for his no-holds barred political advice and jokes. But it at least inspires curiosity.
Things get off to a promising start with a spectacular series of stairs (rented) that ascend into the heavens, and are lighted with the pizzazz of high-wattage musical comedy. Strange thing, though. That professional look winds up being a hindrance. It ups your expectations. And when the female chorus members come strutting on, they seem nice enough, but definitely not professional. Director Jim Carey could improve things overnight if he could get the likable women to observe two basic rules of dance: don’t look down when you descend steps. (The poor creatures look terrified. Did they rehearse enough?) And keep the energy level dynamite high so that the joy of what you’re singing and dancing about will be infectious. There’s no fire propelling this show, no urgency. And beautiful women should propel some urgency, don’t you think?
You can quibble with Brown’s limited acting range, but he achieves what is most important: he gets us to believe he’s an earnest, simple man incapable of pretense. Brown’s a chum onstage. When he sings of social conditions, or when he tries to comfort the nation in a radio broadcast following the 1929 stock market crash, you sense that Brown means it. His “acting” never gets in the way of his line of communication.
Also noteworthy is B. Noelle Rowe, who becomes Ziegfeld’s favorite girl, thanks to her ability and willingness to sound and look at every turn like a lovable ditz. And Gary Columbo, who’s more salty and confrontational than son Will, proves he comes from the same bottle of down-home warmth.
Carey doesn’t seem to know how to get his actors to respond to onstage action, nor does he seem interested in doing so. But in his own limited capacity, he exhibits strong control. His training as a choreographer helps keep the action gliding along with consistent grace and breeze. He doesn’t capture the script, but he frames it in charm.
What: “The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Summerlin Performing Arts Center, 1771 Inner Circle Drive
Tickets: $22-$25 (278-3143)
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.
(c) 2008 Las Vegas Review – Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.