Today our e-interview spotlight turns to the director of Will Rogers Follies, my pal Bil Neal.
It's a challenge to direct any show, much less a big musical extravaganza like this one. Here's what Bil had to say:
Q: For those who aren't familiar with the show, tell us about Will Rogers Follies.
A: Will Rogers starred in six different versions of the Follies for Florenz Zigfield during his lifetime. This is the story of Will's life, familial relationships, and death as told from a Zigfield stage in a series of vignettes and dance numbers. The dichotomy between the "normalcy" of his life and the production pieces is what caught my interest at first.
Q: This show recreates a different era. What challenges does that cause for you and the production team?
A: The costumes, naturally. It's pretty tough to dress showgirls appropriately from the '20s and '30s. Magic Makers really outdid themselves for us, pretty much allowed our costumer Terri Tagmeyer to live at their store.
Q: Tell us about the cast for the show.
A: Please! Stephen Vance is in his first Title Role. He's earned the right to all the applause the Tri-State can offer him for the next two weekends. He's worked harder than almost anyone in the cast, and added physical rope tricks, all while re-creating a genuine, three-dimensional historical figure. It's an honest portrayal of a very down-to-earth celebrity. It's a pleasure to follow him onstage in the course of the evening.
Jocelyn Clark is the biggest character on the stage. She makes playing Zigfield's Favorite showgirl look like the role of her lifetime. She's in every dance number, changes clothes (and accessories) more than anyone else, and does it with a smile on her face. Every performance finds her running a marathon in three-inch heels while singing. There's just no one else like her.
Jane Modlin brings intimacy and honesty to her role as Betty Rogers - Will's wife. She's a fixture in Tri-State theatre, and with good reason. My favorite aspect of working with her has been sitting back and just listening. She's got the best solos in the show, and I adore her tone and talent. What she does to a torch song is simply amazing.
Jim Lamp is pretty much a constant if I'm gonna do theatre. He makes the whole experience (on and off stage) a blast. His comedic timing is effortless, and in this show we all get to see the heart behind a pretty gruff character.
What could I possibly say about the Showgirls? Stunning? Disciplined? Amazing? Yes, all that and more. The time and devotion they've put into Will Rogers Follies is awesome to me.
The Cowboys own a special place in my heart. Such good men. The scene that features them had me laughing so hard in rehearsal last week that I almost... well, I laughed really really hard.
Jon Lamp has taken over the role of Wiley Post like Grant took Richmond. He literally stops the show.
Justin Carlson is making his Community Theatre debut as our Peter, the Stage Manager, beautifully. The depth he's brought to this character is charming and honest. I couldn't be more pleased for him.
Our four kids are probably the sweetest element of the show - singing, dancing, and getting a few punch lines in on their own.
This production also brings in a big back-stage cast of singers, techs and dressers. Talk about hard working - we've got it in spades.
Q: Why would you urge our readers to attend?
A: Chuck, you and I both know that right now there are a lot of options when it comes to seeing theatre in our area. I can only say this much - this show deserves to be seen. What Will said about the Depression of his era can certainly be related to in our current economy. Add that message to a combination of honest relationships with sweet, loving people and throw in every sparkly costume in our area. This show was written to have heart, and sweetness, and sparkle and fun. It was, somehow, written for the folks who've earned these roles. Their work ethic throughout this project has been overwhelming at times. I've never heard of any other cast setting their own additional rehearsal times just to polish things up so they could amaze me even more. Our Showgirls have done that weekly. The entire cast has worked impressively to produce a show worthy of having huge audiences. I'm so proud of them and what they've become that it humbles me (and a lot of your readers know how amazing that must be).
Q: Tell us when and where the show is staged, and how much the tickets cost.
A: We open October 15 and run for two weekends at the ARTS on Eighth Street. There are already limited Dinner and show combinations for $30 (we're serving brisket, cowboy beans, red potatoes and cobbler - reservations required). Show-only tickets are $15, and one child under 12 gets in free with any single paying adult for the show.