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|June 12-18, 2008
Where there’s a Will...
Boulder’s Dinner Theatre lassos a winner
by Gary Zeidner
Many people write off musical theater as a fluffy diversion on par with cotton candy; musicals may be bright, colorful and sweet, but they lack substance and, in the end, evaporate from one’s consciousness almost immediately. The veracity of this belief lies wholly within the mind of the individual, but even the most musically disinclined person will find humor and heart in Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s latest, The Will Rogers Follies.
It’s hard to believe that The Will Rogers Follies has only been around since 1991. It feels so authentic and complete that one can easily imagine it having been penned soon after the 1935 death of the iconic Rogers as a contemporary tribute to one of America’s favorite entertainers. Regardless of its vintage, The Will Rogers Follies lovingly tells the tale of Rogers’ life, and as produced by Michael Duran and directed by Scott Beyette, it illustrates beautifully how despite all the technological, political and social advances of the last 75 years, life in America is in many ways eerily similar today to what it was back in Rogers’ time.
Like Rogers himself, The Will Rogers Follies is a slice of pure Americana. The show opens with an all-singing, all-dancing number full of cowboys, cows and Indians (and yes, given the context, these folks were Indians, not Native Americans or any other newfangled P.C. euphemism). Thanks to Linda Morken’s costume design, a line of fan dancers looks just like a field of wildflowers. The chorus of cowboys comes complete with cowboy boots that double as tap shoes. Will himself even makes a dramatic entrance from a most unlikely direction.
After covering Rogers’ birth in Oklahoma and sketching out the relationship between him and his father, Clem, the show wastes no time in getting Rogers’ and his love, Betty Blake, together. In one of the show’s most enjoyable scenes, Will and Betty woo one another, not in small-town Oklahoma but rather on the moon. Yes, you read that right, on the moon. The central conceit of the show is that it tells Will Rogers’ story after the fashion of a Ziegfeld Follies show, and Mr. Ziegfeld wants this scene to take place on the moon, so there you have it.
Back on Earth, Rogers starts on the bottom rung of the showbiz ladder working for a traveling Wild West show. After marrying Betty, the two go on the road as Will tries his hand at vaudeville. After getting his big break headlining for the Ziegfeld Follies in New York, Rogers becomes an international sensation. His homespun observations on world events, people’s peccadilloes and life in general earn him a place in comic history. His famous, truncated quote, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” might explain how he was able to poke fun at all of our foibles without once seeming judgmental or critical of them.
With The Will Rogers Follies, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre has done it again. The show is uproariously funny, nostalgic and emotionally compelling. As Rogers, longtime BDT actor A.K. Klimpke disappears into the role. Klimpke played the lead in the very first show I reviewed at BDT, and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since. I’d love to say that his performance as Rogers is pitch perfect, but let’s face it, Klimpke won’t be winning American Idol any time soon. His amazing stage presence and excellent comedic abilities, however, more than outdistance any melodic shortcomings, and his Will Rogers may well be one of his best performances. (He even performs some of Rogers’ signature rope tricks.)
The rest of the cast, which is comprised of BDT veterans along with a passel of new faces, succeed in their various roles, making every minute of The Will Rogers Follies a joy. And when Follies closes in a few months, BDT has a spectacular lineup planned. Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical will be returning to BDT’s stage followed by Mel Brooks’ smash hit, The Producers.
On the bill:
The Will Rogers Follies plays through August 31 at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com.
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