Grand-scale Production of 'The Will Rogers Follies' Takes Place April 29-May 3 in Laxson Auditorium

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• Prior to the curtain rising opening night...
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• TV Interview with Timothy Allen McDonald
• Rope Trick Wizardry by our "Will" — Eric Dobson
• "Will Rogers Follies" Costumes — What's Old is New Again
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California State University, Chico’s 2015 Spring Musical, “The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue,” celebrates famed humorist and performer Will Rogers in a song, dance/glitz and glamour spectacular the whole family will enjoy.

Performances take place in Laxson Auditorium on Wednesday, April 29 through Saturday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 3 at 2 p.m. For best seats purchase tickets early at the University Box Office (530-898-6333).

Set in the 1920s and ‘30s within the famous Ziegfeld Follies, where Will Rogers often headlined with his homespun stories, every scene and song in this musical comedy is a lavish production number highlighting the reminiscences of one of America’s most beloved folk heroes.

This Broadway classic will be guest-directed by Timothy Allen McDonald, founder and CEO of iTheatrics and a 2010 CSU, Chico Distinguished Alumni. McDonald is a veteran Broadway, Off-Broadway and National Tour director, an award-winning playwright and a leading authority on musical theatre education. Among his many accomplishments, McDonald has directed for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as multi-Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning producer Daryl Roth, and most recently directed Sarah Jessica Parker in the first ever White House Talent show for President and Mrs. Obama. During his Chico days McDonald was founder of Chico City Light Opera in the early 1990s where he directed more than 100 productions.

“What's great about the show is that it tells Will's life story through the lens of the Ziegfeld Follies,” McDonald said.

The Follies were lavish revues combining comedy, music and dance on a grand scale.

“Think of a Vegas show featuring gor­geous gals and guys and extravagant costumes, singing, dancing and performing mind-blowing feats of wonder — that's what the Ziegfeld Follies were,” McDonald said.

CSU, Chico’s “Will Rogers Follies” will be a lavish, pull-out-all-the-stops production. McDonald is staging it like an old fashioned Broadway “Golden Era” musical, complete with beautiful sets and costumes, elaborate dance numbers, and a 15-piece orchestra conducted by fellow Chico State alum Ryan Heimlich.

“This production is going to be massive, extravagant, and a great deal of fun,” said Katie Thornton, who plays Ziegfeld’s favorite showgirl in the production. “Paired with the story of Will Rogers, this is sure to be a light-hearted and enjoyable evening/afternoon of theater.”

Over the past few months, McDonald has been traveling between Chico and his home in New York City to audition actors and direct the production. Cast members have appreciated the professionalism McDonald brings to the stage and feel honored to have the opportunity to work with him.

“I was very excited and somewhat nervous to work with Tim McDonald,” said Connor Norton, musical theater major. “He has accomplished so much in his theater career; he is living the life most theater students dream of living.”

“The Will Rogers Follies” was a collaboration between Peter Stone (script), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics), and Cy Coleman (music). The Broadway production opened on May 1, 1991 at the Palace Theatre and closed on September 5, 1993, after 981 performances and 33 previews. Directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune, the original cast included Keith Carradine as Rogers, Dee Hoty as Betty Blake, Dick Latessa as Will's father Clem, and Cady Huffman as Ziegfeld's favorite chorus girl. It won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Musical Score and Best Direction. “Will Rogers Follies” also won Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical.

“Variety Magazine” said the show “whisks the audience away to a time when Americans had heroes they truly loved, and entertainment that truly entertained.”

Much of the appeal of the musical is due to the charisma of its main character, Will Rogers. The musical follows the life of Rogers, born William Penn Adair Rogers, through his journey to fame and stardom after leaving home to be a young cowboy performer in the early 1920s.

“Will Rogers is not your typical modern-day book musical; it’s a big song and dance show,” said Bryan Eid, a member of the show’s men’s ensemble. “It’s going to be very entertaining.”

The set for “Will Rogers,” designed by McDonald, is one of the most elaborate sets that Chico State has built in recent years. Giant staircases span the length of Laxson Auditorium’s stage and reach high into the air, creating the backdrop for the over-the-top dance numbers, cowboy rope tricks and fabulous showgirls that give the show an air of extravagance.

“The Will Rogers Follies is a very big dancing show, which I think Chico State has not had in recent years,” Norton said.

The dance numbers are being choreographed by Sheree Henning, a well-known and respected local dance instructor. Henning has choreographed the dance numbers for many Chico State spring musicals, including recent productions of “Spamalot,” “The Music Man,” and “Oklahoma.”

Chico State staff and faculty members contributing to the production include Sandra Barton (costumes), Daria Scholz (music direction) and Pete Austin (set construction).

Cast members include some of CSU, Chico’s most talented performers. Lead roles went to Eric Dobson (Will Rogers); Xander Ritchey (Clem); Lauren Sutton-Beattie (Betty Blake); Katie Thornton (Ziegfield’s Favorite Chorus Girl); and Owen Hansen (Wiley Post). Men’s Ensemble cast members include Tyler Campbell, Bryan Eid, Tristan Gunderson, Mickenzie Layson, Connor Norton, Alejandro Padilla, Steven Sprague and Shaunte Stewart. Women’s Ensemble cast members include Claire Ando, Megan Aube, Madison Burns, Ciara Carvajal, Meghan Collins, Samantha Corbett, Katie Doll, Danielle Gervais, Allie Griffey, Cassandra Gutierrez, Sophie McCartney, Brittney Nusbaum, Caitlin Ruszczyk, Camille Nani Senderowicz, Lacy Stephens and Hannah Vine.

CSU, Chico last performed the musical in 2001 to near sold-out audiences. However, McDonald assures theatergoers that this show will be like no others presented at Chico State.

“I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves,” he said. “So expect to see a few things you’ve never seen before.”

Advance tickets, at $20 premium, $16 adult, $14 senior citizens, and $10 students/children, are available at the University Box Office located at the corner of Third and Chestnut Streets. Tickets are also available online at http://www.csuchico.edu/boxoffice or by phone at 530-898-6333; additional $4 handling fee for phone and online ticket purchases. Add $2 for tickets purchased at the door. For special needs seating, please call 530-898-6333. 

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Photos of Eric Dobson (Will Rogers) by Bree Chun, School of the Arts Graphic Designer/Photographer