Hoopla

Fancy footwork: Follies shines spotlight on dance through the decades

TINT

Glitz and glamour, showgirls and showstoppers are the hallmarks of the annual Follies, onstage Saturday and Sunday at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids. Ready to sparkle and shine are (from left) Marita May, Zane Hadish and Elizabeth Kimmel.
TINT Glitz and glamour, showgirls and showstoppers are the hallmarks of the annual Follies, onstage Saturday and Sunday at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids. Ready to sparkle and shine are (from left) Marita May, Zane Hadish and Elizabeth Kimmel.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The curtain rises this weekend on the 37th annual Follies, full of sequins and feathers, top hats and tails, and dancing — so much dancing.

“Dancing Through Life,” one of the big production numbers from Broadway’s “Wicked,” inspired the theme for this year’s production, onstage at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (3/24) and 2 p.m. Sunday (3/25) at the Paramount Theatre.

It’s not the first time Follies has turned the spotlight on dance, but co-creators and directors Damon Cole and Alisabeth Von Presley, both of Cedar Rapids, are excited about putting that spin on this year’s show, tapping into all age groups.

"We both agreed that this is the year of the dance. We didn't know who was going audition — we didn't know what their level of technique or skill would be, but we knew that we wanted to make a focus out of dance."

- Alisabeth Von Presley, Co-director of Follies

“Damon I met over coffee and we discussed possible themes. He had about 25 themes that were on the back burner that he had wanted to do, and I had two themes that I wanted to do, and dancing was one of them,” said Von Presley, who also is choreographing the show.

“We both agreed that this is the year of the dance. We didn’t know who was going audition — we didn’t know what their level of technique or skill would be, but we knew that we wanted to make a focus out of dance. So I tried to make all the songs about dance — how dance makes you feel, how you can express yourself through dance,” she said. “I’ve used dance to express how I feel for my entire life. I’m not sure I ever stand still.”

She studied Ziegfeld Follies videos for inspiration, striving to make the choreography accessible to everyone onstage.

“It’s not difficult dancing, but they are moving,” she said. “Everybody’s dancing. At the end of Act I and the end of Act II are huge dance numbers that people swore to me they would never get. Usually there’s the stand and sing choir in the back that gives a little sway. Not this year.

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“This year I challenged everybody to step outside their comfort level and you’ll see that they can do it. They just needed somebody that believes in them — and they look great.”

The Follies Kids are getting more of a workout, too.

“We’re using them throughout the show, which is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Cole, who also serves as musical director. “These kids are amazingly talented.”

“Every time I walk in, the kids are just practicing in a corner,” Von Presley added. “It’s phenomenal.”

An all-around performer, she admits it’s taking all of her willpower to not jump up onstage and be part of the show, but she likes watching it all unfold.

“It’s really rewarding to watch everyone else,” she said. “I get the same kind of joy watching them do it well, as I do performing it.”

It all boils down to lots of hard work, punctuated by laughter.

During a recent rehearsal in the First Congregational Church basement, the cast was sweating to the oldies but goodies, like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” as well as newer Broadway fare, like “Le Jazz Hot!” from “Victor/Victoria” and “A Chorus Line” medley. Toss in a little bubble gum pop with “Sugar, Sugar” and some Beatles and Michael Jackson hits, and audiences will find themselves bopping to the beat in their seats.

Year after year, participants say the spirit of the Follies is what makes it special, and that was evident when the dancers stretched out their arms for the final pose in “Le Jazz Hot” — except for one person, who forgot. “Oops,” he said, sparking a gaggle of giggles. After all, they had more than a week to polish their act at that point.

“The people — the family environment” have kept Tracie Hodina Van Pelt of Cedar Rapids not only coming back for her 15th Follies, but also taking on a leadership role as the nonprofit organization’s board president.

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“I’ve been the treasurer the last couple of years,” she said, noting that her goal is “just trying to make sure that it sustains. That’s the biggest thing for me — this sustainability and that we’re doing this for a reason.”

It takes a small army of people behind the scenes, along with 84 volunteer performers, ages 8 to 75, to mount the song-and-dance extravaganza. The show draws audiences from near and far to see the razzle dazzle of soloists, choruses, kick lines and Follies Kids, some of whom age up through the ranks of youth and adult performers.

Van Pelt is especially proud of a new initiative to help cultivate a new generation of artists. A scholarship has been established in memory of Gene Whiteman of Cedar Rapids, a longtime educator and Follies favorite. He performed in his final Follies at age 90 and died March 6, 2017, at age 91.

The amount will vary each year, depending on show proceeds, Van Pelt said, but in this inaugural year, two $1,000 scholarships were awarded to local students pursuing arts education. Recipients are Follies performer Zane Hadish, 20, of Cedar Rapids, and Breanna Kenney, a senior at Kennedy High School, whose forte is costume design.

Chosen from among five applicants, each was asked to present a performance sample or portfolio and a letter of reference. Participating in the Follies is not a criteria, although Hadish is making his second appearance in the show, at the urging of his sister, Saddah Hadish, who has performed in years past.

“We had a boy and a girl — one in Follies and one not. And I think we’ve got the best of both worlds,” Van Pelt said.

Hadish is thrilled to have a couple of spotlight moments, including the show’s title song. “I get to show off my singing skills the best I can,” he said, building on the skills honed by growing up in a musical family, then participating in choir, show choir and band at Jefferson High School.

He hopes Follies audiences “have a good time watching it, maybe get inspired to jump onstage themselves. Because that was me when I was an elementary school student watching my sister perform onstage. I hope everybody finds that sort of knack in life — something that inspires them.”

Get Out!

WHAT: Follies 2018

WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

WHEN: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (3/24) and 2 p.m. Sunday (3/25)

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TICKETS: $27 to $47, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com; $17 students at the ticket office

DETAILS: Crfollies.com

 

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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