The Will Rogers Follies: A legend comes to life at LTA

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I never met a man I didnt like are the words of the legendary Will Rogers, whose wit and wisdom are vividly brought to life in The Will Rogers Follies, now playing at The Little Theatre of Alexandria.

Chronicling the life and career of Americas first international media sensation, Follies is a true Broadway extravaganza with an elaborate Ziegfeld Follies revue as its backdrop.

As the curtain rises at LTA, we meet Will, effortlessly played by theater veteran Harv Lester, who treats the audience to a folksy, musical narrative of his extraordinary life.

The journey begins on a Cherokee Nation ranch in Oklahoma and traces Rogers rise from cattle rancher and vaudeville entertainer to the biggest and highest paid star of stage, screen, radio and newspapers at the time of his death.

As Will Rogers, Lester interacts directly with the audience as he introduces us to his father Clem, his six sisters and Betty Blake, the woman who would become his wife 10 years after he first laid eyes on her in a train depot.

We also meet celebrated aviator Wiley Post, the pilot of the plane that killed him and Rogers in Alaska in 1935, as he eerily beckons Will with Lets go flying throughout the show.

Making its Broadway debut in 1991, the original Follies earned six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score over blockbuster hits such as The Secret Garden and Miss Saigon.

Under the skillful theatrical eye of Director Roland Branford Gomez, Follies once again comes to life with dazzling costumes, extravagant sets and toe-tapping songs from the illustrious team of Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green in their last major effort for the stage.

Producers Margaret Evans-Joyce and Heather Franklin have amassed a brilliant cast and crew who perfectly recreate the elaborate Broadway production numbers that make the show based on Peter Stones book so much fun and entertaining.

The charismatic Lester handles the demanding role of Will Rogers with ease, his rich baritone providing a soothing lullaby as he dispenses tidbits of Rogers wisdom such as A man makes a living by what he gets; he makes a life by what he gives.

Good chemistry
Making her LTA debut is the multi-talented Elizabeth Yeates as Wills wife Betty. The chemistry between Yeates and Lester is evident and tenderly portrays one of Hollywoods most enduring love stories.

Lighting up the stage as she transitions the show from scene to scene is Krissy Silvestro as Zs Favorite. With all the flamboyant showmanship of an original Ziegfeld girl, Silvestro is perfectly suited to highlight the glittering costume design by Kathy Dodson, Chris Macey, Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley.

John Shackelford is making his return visit to LTA as Wills father Clem, giving a solid performance that has become his trademark and showcases his comedic talents.

This lavish evening of enjoyment is a seamless collaborative effort as the choreography by Amy Carson and Catherine Weinraub is perfectly orchestrated to The Follies Band, who delivers flawlessly on the big, brassy award-winning score under the musical direction of David Howard Boyer and Cathy Manley.

The renowned Ziegfeld glamour is cleverly recreated in set designer De Nicholson-Lambs grand staircase that serves as the centerpiece of the show throughout the decades.

Veteran lighting designers Ken and Patti Crowley use their considerable expertise with special effects to produce a visually rich ambiance that is on par with that of Jules Fisher, the original lighting designer who was awarded a Tony for the original production.

The LTA presentation of The Will Rogers Follies is truly Broadway showmanship at its best and a fitting tribute to one of Americas most beloved entertainers of all time. Its a delightful evening of wit, wisdom and hilarity that is a must-see for audiences of all ages.

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