Will Rogers Follies Broadway alum stars in CT Goodspeed revival

Will Rogers Follies Broadway alum stars in CT Goodspeed revival

By Don Church & Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

(Photo by Diane Sobolewski courtesy Goodspeed Musicals)

Will Rogers Follies was a great big Broadway hit that won six Tony awards and was nominated for five others in 1991. It’s now on stage at the Tony-winning Goodspeed Musicals through June 21 in East Haddam, CT.

It stars David M. Lutken, from the original cast, playing the legendary wit, Will Rogers. Lutken was recently nominated by the Outer Critics Circle as Best Actor in a Musical for Woodie Sez.

The illustrious creative team of the original production included Tony-winners Cy Coleman (music), Betty Comden/ Adolph Green (Lyrics) and Tommy Tune (director/choreographer).

David Lutken walks away with the show and he alone is worth the price of admission for his spectacular performance. The superb actor gets inside of the down-home personality of the great international vaudevillian, Ziegfeld Follies star, radio personality, newspaper columnist and film star without ever breaking character.

Lutken easily and charmingly goes for the truth in this compelling professional and private life portrait of Rogers. He was both famous and popular for his on- and off-stage blistering political satire. It is as shockingly relevant today as it was in Roger’s time the late 1800s through the mid-1930s.

But don’t despair. Despite being reminded of today’s horrific political climate, the show is full of singing, dancing, Ziegfeld girls strutting their stuff, vaudeville bits, including those

Rogers signature rope tricks, and a barrel full of all kinds of humor from giggles, belly laughs to hootin’ and hollerin’. It’s only missing a dog-and-pony show to make it a little more over-the-top.

Some of the highlights are performances by “Ziegfeld’s Favorite showgirl” (broadly played by Brooke Lacy); and four child actors who are a rare delight: Will Rogers, Jr. (Ben Jones-Zelman), Mary Rogers (Riley Briggs), James Rogers (Brendan Reilly Harris), and Freddy Rogers (Nathan Horne).  David Garrison as Will’s father, Clem Rogers keeps the laughter going – even after death, his delightful spirit keeps turning up in key scenes.

The ensemble of 10 talented singer/dancer/actors are a joy as they dance, sing and charmingly connect with the audience as they perform on the sizable staircase that dominates the stage. The one great fail by the director (Don Stephenson) and choreographer (Kelli Barclay) comes during the best song in the show “Our Favorite Son.”  This is played on the very front of the stage with the seated dancer’s legs dangling over the edge. The seats at Goodspeed are all on a flat plane with no rise, making it difficult for most of the audience to see action below the stage edge.  The scene would have been better played on the first step of the staircase, as it was in the original production.

The final scene is, once again, David Lutken singing “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like.” His performance is at the heart and soul of this tribute to the irrepressible and talented Will Rogers. There’s no way not to like this Broadway star.

Dates:  April 13 – June 21 PerformancesWednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). Tickets: Start at $29.00. All prices subject to change based on availability. Goodspeed Box Office (860.873.8668) or online at goodspeed.org. Free Parking.

Mother’s Day Mom-TiniSunday, May 13, 6:30pm Includes a ticket to the show on Mother’s Day plus Mom’s favorite specialty martini in a souvenir cup – $51 per person. Meet the CastMay 10 & 24, June 7: A lively free discussion with the cast after the specified Thursday evening performances. Student Rush: $15 tickets available for any evening performance, beginning at 10am on the day of the show. Must have valid student ID. Friday Dinner Theatre Package:  Includes dinner at the Gelston House (located next door to The Goodspeed) and a ticket to the 8:00 pm performance. Includes your choice of beef, chicken, fish, or pasta entrée for $89.

The Goodspeed Opera House, home of Goodspeed Musicals, is located in East Haddam, Connecticut.

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