BWW Interview: Michael Santora of THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre
In 1991, the larger than life, glitzy musical The Will Rogers Follies by Peter Stone, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Cy Coleman first appeared at the Palace Theatre on Broadway. The Will Rogers Follies won several Tony Awards in 1991, including Best Musical, and, while some critics have not been enamored with the show, it continues to delight audiences through high school and local theatre performances. This story about the life of humorist Will Rogers will open at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre on September 26 and run through November 9. The actor portraying Will Rogers himself, Michael Santora, took a few moments out of his busy rehearsal schedule to talk with us about the production.
BWW: Tell us how you got involved in acting
Santora: I started out by doing a musical every year at my high school. I was just looking to make new friends by joining the drama club but very quickly fell in love with being on stage! I have done a lot of Shakespeare (including playing Hamlet and Mercutio). I also played Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain, Rooster in a national tour of Annie, and Dwight Schrute in The Office! A Musical Parody Off-Broadway at The Jerry Orbach Theatre.
BWW: What's one quirky thing about yourself?
Santora: I have a love for both performance and sports. I played basketball and football in high school. I think this set a nice foundation for the discipline and hard work required for an actor. One funny story that comes to mind when I think about this combination of performance and sports in my life happened during my senior year. First, I sang the national anthem in the press box, then I had to run down the football bleachers to call the coin toss before the game started because I was captain of the football team.
BWW: How does it feel to portray a person who actually existed? What are some of the challenges?
Santora: Especially when playing another performer, it's important to learn some of the skills they were most well-known for. I LOVE learning new skills. I learned how to play the harmonica and do rope tricks for The Will Rogers Follies.
BWW: What is your favorite song in the show and why?
Santora: My favorite song is "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like". Will Rogers truly loved people with a genuine heart. My favorite quote in the show is "you must never judge a man while you're facing him. You have to go around behind him, and look at what he's looking at, then go back and face him, and you'll have a totally different idea of who he is. You'll be surprised how much easier it is to get along with everybody."
BWW: What song do you think will be the biggest crowd-pleaser?
Santora: I think one of the most memorable numbers in the show is "Our Favorite Son". It is a fun song with iconic choreography created by Tommy Tune.
BWW: In some productions the actor playing Will Rogers does some pretty impressive rope tricks. Will you be doing any rope tricks? If so, have you ever done that before? How did you learn?
Santora: Yes, I do rope tricks in this production. I have really enjoyed learning rope tricks! It's one of the most difficult skills I've attempted but also very rewarding. I practiced for two months before rehearsals started, and I took private lessons with a professional cowboy in Manhattan!
BWW: In your opinion, what is it about the life of Will Rogers that made it an inspiration for a Broadway musical?
Santora: There aren't many roles in musical theatre like Will Rogers. It's his life in revue. He has many wonderful monologues and rope tricks, and he plays both the guitar and harmonica.
BWW: The style of the humorist-philosopher is one we see a lot today. How do you think Will Rogers style of humor and performance may have influenced some of the styles of humor, especially political humor, see today?
Santora: I think the best way to sum up his influence on humor is with a line from the script: "he told us the truth and he made people laugh at it."
BWW: Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
Santora: Audiences will enjoy the choreography, especially in "Give a Man Enough Rope" and "Our Favorite Son". Will Rogers is a wonderful character, whom I would love to continue playing in future productions. He was only 55 years-old when he died in the airplane crash on August 17, 1935.