by Madeleine Rex, Publicity Manager
Costumes, talent, humor, music and rope tricks all set the stage for a raucous evening!
eBackstage has enjoyed watching David M. Lutken (Will Rogers) and Chryssie Whitehead (Ziegfeld’s Favorite) on the set of The Will Rogers Follies. Some of the funniest parts of the show are their banter between the two of them. We took a moment to ask them both a few questions.
What’s your favorite element of a Follies show?
Chryssie Whitehead: The costumes!
David M. Lutken: The combination of talents and genres: humor, music, dancing, rope tricks, jokes, social commentary, beautiful ladies in gorgeous costumes, spectacular sets, and lighting and effects.
What sort of president do you think Will would have made, if he’d run seriously and had won?
CW: A kind one.
DL: If he had ever been elected, I think he’d have done well because of his genial persuasiveness and genuine desire to help his fellow man, coupled with his peerless skills as a speaker and a writer.
What makes this production of The Will Rogers Follies special or unique?
CW: Our fabulous director was able to recreate the original version. A lot of it is the same, but he was able to put some of his unique stamps on it; we have a new set design, lighting and costumes!
DL: Any show is unique, of course, because of the people who create it. The resources and professionalism at PTC, combined with the talents of the artistic team and this eager, talented and wonderfully happy cast translates every bit of the sparkle and whip-cracking wit that Peter Stone, Adolph Green, Betty Comden, Cy Coleman and Tommy Tune put together 26 years ago. It’s quite special for me to be chosen to play the ‘front man’ for a group, show and theatre like this one!
What is your favorite costume in the entire musical, worn by anyone?
CW: I love the decadent turquoise robe I get to wear that was exquisitely designed by Patrick Holt. I go back in time and feel what it must have been like to be a glamorous movie star with a fancy wardrobe.
DL: Will makes quite a few comments about costumes in the show—It’d be hard to pick one; they are all incredible works of art. Still, all of Betty Blake’s dresses are beautiful and Patrick Holt has made me and all the fellows look pretty good. The costumes in the opening act and, of course, the “jewels” in Act II are just an amazing achievement.
Costumes and mock presidential campaigns aside, The Will Rogers Follies is more than funny and lighthearted; it is full of meaningful messages. What does the musical mean to you?
CW: This musical is a story of how one man can touch so many people’s lives through kindness, humor and empathy. We can all learn a lesson from him. He made every moment count regardless of his education or upbringing. He followed his heart and was always learning about people and discovering new things, which lead to his famous quotes.
DL: There’s a lot going on in the world today—an awful lot of good things and just about as many that aren’t so good. Theatre is one way to help people see and understand—good and bad—some of what’s going on and why.
When the team of folks I mentioned above created this show in 1990/91, it was timely in its nostalgia. Since then, I’ve performed the show with five different presidents in the White House, and it’s still timely now.
The Will Rogers Follies is an homage to a humble, energetic, talented, empathetic and intelligent fellow who proved beyond a doubt that one person can change things for the better.