by Kaitlyn Frank
The Will Rogers Follies is a grand and dazzling musical which follows the life of Will Rogers through the lens of Florence Ziegfeld of the Ziegfeld Follies. The original 1991 production was spectacular (literally) featuring an ensemble of 18 gorgeous Follies girls, a giant staircase, a dog show, a professional roper etc. Needless to say, it is a huge feat to produce it at the Goodspeed Opera House- a beautiful quaint theatre in East Haddam, CT.
The team collaborated to find creative and brilliant solutions for the unexpected challenges given the historic architecture of the theatre. Not only is this challenging from a design and staging perspective, but it also creates new challenges for the ensemble. With the increasing trend of paired down productions of larger musicals, the demands of the ensemble member have grown tremendously.
In this case, we have six females in the ensemble doing the work of 18 girls. Every time we step on stage we are a completely different character - down and dirty tap dancing cowgirls, quirky comedic single sisters, fabulous follies showgirls, and satirical political constituents in “Our Favorite Son.” The ensemble women are not only required to be true triple threats, but we also do rope tricks! (Not to mention the understudies in the ensemble who also play multiple musical instruments). However, this is not a complaint. It is so fun to do an ensemble track that allows me to practice a different skill, dance style and character every time I step on the stage. It is so rewarding to feel that you are flexing all of your muscles as a performer. Our choreographer, Kelli Barclay, has done an incredible job of creating unique character driven choreography that not only feels amazing to dance, but also gives the illusion that there are at least a dozen girls on stage.
Through the creativity of these “music box” productions, musicals like The Will Rogers Follies can be produced and shared with communities that would not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience it. The Will Rogers Follies has such a touching message, speaking on the importance of philanthropy, environmental conservation and erasing political division in our country. Being able to bring this story to Connecticut audiences is such an honor and an incredibly rewarding opportunity every night.