BWW Review: Pioneer Theatre Company's THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES is Glitzy, Homespun Fun
Pioneer Theatre Company's production of the rarely revived THE Will Rogers FOLLIES is full of glitz; glamor; and simple, homespun fun.
THE Will Rogers FOLLIES: A LIFE IN REVIEW (book by Peter Stone, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) cleverly tells the life story of 20th-century entertainer Will Rogers through the lens of a Ziegfeld Follies show. Light-hearted jokes, warm-hearted advice, rope tricks, a rise to fame, and a love story for the ages are all wrapped up in its unique dance and spectacle-laden package.
It is mystifying how this revue-style show won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Score against the formidable likes of THE SECRET GARDEN, MISS SAIGON, and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, but it is an enjoyable romp, regardless.
Directed and choreographed by DJ Salisbury, who was dance assistant on the original workshop and on Broadway, this production is carefully calibrated for success with great timing and staging. The set design by George Maxwell, costume design by Patrick Holt, hair and makeup by Amanda French, and lighting design by Yael Lubetsky all wonderfully evoke the scale of a Ziegfeld Follies revue in all its excess and splendor. The most affecting moment of the show, visually and emotionally, is when the Great Depression steals this all away.
The top-notch cast (including a hard-working, precise ensemble) is led by the affable David M. Lutken, who understudied the part on Broadway, as Will Rogers. At his side as Will's wife, Betty, is the enchanting Lisa Brescia, who has played a number of leading roles on Broadway, including Donna in MAMMA MIA!, Elphaba in WICKED, and Amneris in AIDA.
Other stand-outs include Broadway performer Chryssie Whitehead as Ziegfeld's Favorite, along with veteran of stage and screen Norman Large, who played the Bishop in the original Broadway cast of LES MISERABLES, as Will's father, Clem. Entertainment icon Donny Osmond delightfully makes the most of his pre-recorded role as The Voice of Mr. Ziegfeld.