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Follies: From grassroots to glamour

Annual variety show returns to the Paramount

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 4:06 pm   ::  

 

The show must go on, and so it shall.

Follies, a Cedar Rapids tradition for more than 30 years, has come full circle, back in the hands of volunteers united by loyalty and a can-do spirit. And back at the Paramount Theatre, where it all began.

From the opening strains of "As If We Never Said Goodbye" to "We are Family," Follies 2013 is a celebration of all that's held the show together in good times and bad, brought it home and poised it for the future. Show times are 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 2 p.m. April 28.

More than 1,000 people have appeared in Follies past and present. Around 150 people auditioned for this year's homecoming show, and 92 were cast, ranging from ages 7 to nearly 87.

That oldest cast member is Gene Whiteman, 86, of Cedar Rapids. He’ll sing "Beautiful Girls" as the women strut onstage in traditional feathered headdresses, led by another Follies favorite, Shirley Klemp of Cedar Rapids. Other returning soloists include Lori Ferguson, Doug Jackson, Tina Monroe, Tracy Price and Amy Stoner.

Keeping the show alive is "a labor of love for so many people," says Jan McCool, a longtime cast member who has stepped into the co-producer role with Amy Blades. "So many people that have been involved in it for a long time have such a passion for it."

The annual variety show began as a St. Luke's Hospital Auxiliary fundraiser in the 1970s, moved into the hands of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Guild in 1980, and after that organization disbanded in 2008, into the purview of Orchestra Iowa.

The details


The elaborate production, rooted in vaudeville and Ziegfeld-styles, moved to Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls in 2009 and 2010, after the Floods of 2008 slammed shut the Paramount doors. Upheaval didn’t kill the Follies spirit.

"We all want continuity in our lives," says McCool, 63, of Cedar Rapids, "and the flood's not going to be the end of us."

The reality, however, is that expenses have increased and revenues have decreased, especially since the flood, so this year, Orchestra Iowa decided to discontinue its sponsorship, says Robert Massey, the orchestra's CEO.

When director Damon Cole heard that decision in mid-December, he gathered a core group of Follies performers to figure out the logistics of taking over production, marketing and design duties.

They dived right in, divvied up the tasks -- from selling advertising to making business decisions -- put on their tap shoes and hit the ground running. They’ve pulled off in four months what normally would have been done over the course of an entire year.

"We've all been kind of out of our element, but in a fun way," says McCool, who is a lawyer by day.

St. Luke's Auxiliary agreed to bring the show back under its umbrella, as presenting agent. That allows Follies to operate as a nonprofit venture, which aids in fundraising and reduces venue fees. In turn, proceeds will benefit the auxiliary.

Follies volunteers have raised $89,000 to bring the glitz and glamor to the stage.

“Thank God every time we asked for something, the answer was yes,” says Blades, 54, of Cedar Rapids.

Having the Follies Family step up to the challenge is gratifying, but no surprise to Cole, 62, of Cedar Rapids, who has been in charge of the music for all but the earliest years.

"I kinda knew they would," he says, "just because they're suckers for performing. … I think they've had a really fun time doing it. There's a certain sense of accomplishment when you take a thing as big as Follies and are able to make it still happen. I think they're proud of themselves and I'm proud of them, too, so that was cool."

That's the spirit Massey has seen first-hand, when he and Tim Hankewich formed a comedy duo for the 2010 Cedar Falls show.

"As a production, it always has been an incredible community-driven show, made successful by the people that come to rally around that event," says Massey, 42, of Cedar Rapids.

He says the Follies belongs in the Paramount, but it just didn't fit the orchestra's mission of supporting symphonic music.

"At the end of the day, it's not an Orchestra Iowa production," Massey says. “It's not something we’re designing, it's not our musicians playing in the orchestra. It's just the not best use of the orchestra’s fund-raised dollars to go to that production."

The orchestra is still serving as the ticketing agent, as it does for all shows at the Paramount, and venue partners reserved a weekend for Follies when mapping out the year’s reopening events.

"It's a wonderful home for it -- and Follies is a wonderful production for the Paramount," Massey says.

Twenty buses already have signed up to bring their Follies faithfuls, coming from as far as Ottumwa and Charles City. They will see a wide variety of musical styles, show-stopping dances, kids and teens choruses, comedy sketches, including a new take on "Who's On First," spotlight solos and elaborate full-chorus production numbers. Cole will lead an orchestra of 15 instrumentalists.

“Follies is an incredible institution, but it is as strong as the people who rise up and say, ‘We’re going to put on a show.’ And that’s why it’s so good, and that’s why people will come, and that’s why it will be around forever,” Massey says. “We’ve had a couple years’ break, but the Paramount is back and I think we’re going to see a great show.”

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"I haven't even been inside the Paramount yet, so I'm looking forward to that." – Lori Ferguson, 56, of Vinton, 20-year Follies performer

 



“The thing that’s great about Follies is that it’s unique. There isn’t anything like it anywhere else. To have such a show with a large number of talented people involved -- who come together to put together this huge show -- it’s quite magnificent.” – Brian Glick, 26, of Olin, production stage manager

 



 

"I regret not starting earlier. … I love being onstage. I love performing. Theater people are crazy. They are so open (and) just so much fun.”  – Andrew Monroe, 20, of Cedar Rapids and Marion, started as a Follies Kid in fifth grade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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