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Rarely performed "Will Rogers Follies" opening at WSU

Will Rogers (B.J. Whimpey) with Ziegfeld's favorite, played by Kalyn West
Will Rogers (B.J. Whimpey) with Ziegfeld’s favorite, played by Kalyn West

“The Will Rogers Follies,” which covers the life and times of the performer and humorist, will open its run at Weber State University on Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Performances will continue Feb. 8-9, 19-23 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 9 and 23, the latter to include American Sign Language interpretation.

The term “follies” grew initially from the Follies Bergere of Paris, which Florenz Ziegfeld popularized and Americanized into the Ziegfeld Follies, spectacular productions that glamorized and glorified the American girl, from 1907-31. “The Will Rogers Follies,” according to director Jim Christian, “combines the glamour of the Ziegfeld Follies and the wit and charm of Will Rogers.”

The musical production, based on the life of Will Rogers, who died in 1935, covers a large part of  highlighting Rogers’ life through the lens of the Ziegfeld Follies, which were performed during Rogers’ lifetime.

“We’re doing footlights, like in old-style theaters,” said Austin Hull, light designer for the show. “There’s a lot of aesthetics to create the period because those theaters (during Rogers’ life) had gaslights and chandeliers, because it covers a period of over 50 years of Rogers’ life span.”

Because the show is great spectacle, there were many components to work with, including LED lights in the stairs upon which performers ascend and descend.

“It has a lot of technical elements — the mirror balls, 15 intelligent fixtures (that can move and change color) and newer LED light technology,” said master electrician Tom Thorn of the production.

This new LED technology is called “flash and trash” in the theater lighting business, because LED lights generally can flash in a way other lighting doesn’t. All the lighting and the scene design are intended to add glamour to the production.

“It all looks really cool — it’s really exciting,” Thorn said. “It’ll be a spectacle for sure.”

Adding to the spectacle is colorful and technically challenging costuming. Principal costume designer Catherine Zublin said the show was a challenge just from the “sheer numbers of costumes and the the time it opens.”

Jean-Louise England, faculty costume designer and makeup artist, agreed with Zublin regarding the challenge of this production.

“We have a short build time. We really only had four weeks to make 90-plus costumes.”

Zublin said the details of the costumes are very time-consuming. She said her husband told her when she started the show, “I’ll see you when I see you.” The reward for costume designers doesn’t come until the actual performances start.

According to Zublin, the costumes will look “expensive and beautiful.”

Christian’s challenges included teaching nine men to do rope tricks and ensuring the quick costume changes would be possible for all the women. The show is not frequently performed, according to Christian.

“This may be people’s only opportunity to see it,” he said.

Hull, who is also the stage operations supervisor of the Browning Center, summed it up as: “You get to see a great show with a good story, talented performers, cool rope tricks, beautiful costumes, exciting lighting, charming set and live orchestra. It’s just a good production.”

(Source: Alex Thedell)Betty Blake (Lindsea Garside) with Will Rogers, B.J. Whimpey
(Source: Alex Thedell)
Lindsea Garside (Betty Blake) poses B.J. Whimpey (Will Rogers).
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