Hoopla

Follies revving up: Annual song & dance revue explores music that travels to art & soul

ALISABETH VON PRESLEY PHOTO

Rhylee Larson and the other Follies Kids will be immersed in bubbles and other land, sea and air songs when the Cedar Rapids Follies presents “Planes, Trains & Automobiles: The Music That Moves Us.” Three performances will be given March 30 and 31 at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
ALISABETH VON PRESLEY PHOTO Rhylee Larson and the other Follies Kids will be immersed in bubbles and other land, sea and air songs when the Cedar Rapids Follies presents “Planes, Trains & Automobiles: The Music That Moves Us.” Three performances will be given March 30 and 31 at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
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Climb aboard the Chattanooga choo-choo, dive into a yellow submarine and soar with those magnificent men in their flying machines when the Cedar Rapids Follies presents “Planes, Trains & Automobiles: The Music That Moves Us.”

The 38th musical revue combining singing, dancing and comedy is ready for takeoff March 30 and 31 at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.

The polish and panache packed into that one weekend actually represents a year’s worth of work.

“I think a lot of people think that it’s just a two- or three month lead time up to the show, but it’s not. As soon as we close the show, we start planning the next one,” said Jen Boettger, 50, of Cedar Rapids, one of the show’s producers. “The reason for that is because we don’t just go and buy a show — we write it from scratch, so everything is organic and new every single time. It takes time because we have no full-time staff. These are all people who do this for the love of it, in their spare time.

“So it’s a long process — a labor of love by people who just love the Follies.”

All that work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The glitzy song-and-dance extravaganza has been reeling in performers, producers and audiences year after year, thanks to a quality Boettger calls “unique.”

“There’s really nothing else like it in the area,” she said. “It’s not a theater company. We don’t put on traditional musicals or plays. It’s a musical revue, and there’s just nothing like that around here.

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“I think another reason why it keeps going is that we have people who have grown up with the Follies. So for instance, I went as a child in the audience, and then later on as an older person, auditioned and was actually in the cast, and now I’m helping behind the scenes, as well. It just sort of perpetuates because it truly is a Follies Family and it’s a Cedar Rapids tradition.

“And so I think it keeps going because people just know it — it’s part of our community.”

Keeping it fresh year after year is the challenge, as the production team strives to appeal to all ages, onstage and in the audience. Cast members range in age from 7 to mid-70s, and includes a multigenerational flair, with Jimmer Larson, 7, of Marion, joining grandma June Schumacher onstage this year. His mom, Amanda Larson, also has been in the show with her mom in years past, but is taking a break until Jimmer’s siblings get a little older, said Schumacher, 58, of Cedar Rapids. She’ll get to celebrate her birthday on opening day with the friends she’s made during her 17 winters with the show. That’s what keeps her coming back for more.

“I’ve made some of my lifelong friends doing the show. Winters are icky and so it’s something to keep you busy and keep connected with your friends during the winter. I just love it,” she said. “I’ve come full circle. I was young when I started and here I am one of the older ones. but still loving it.”

Connecting across the ages is tricky for the writers and directors, Boettger said.

”It’s a real delicate balance of trying to find the traditional old favorites and new fresh things, and we’re doing it again this year, where we’re putting in a lot of classics and some really new, fresh pop stuff,” she said. The repertoire ranges from ’40s big band fare and Manhattan Transfer jazz to music from the recent hit films “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land,” as well as Pharrell Williams’ pop hit, “Happy.”

The latter two are prime examples of the double meaning behind the music-on-the-move theme, which also embraces music that “moves us inside and moves the spirit,” she said.

“What’s so wonderful about this musical revue format is that you can just mix stuff in and make a wonderfully entertaining two hours that just fly by.”

Community has been a major player behind the scenes, as well, after the organization lost all of its scenery and costumes to the Floods of 2008, which also wiped out its home at the Paramount Theatre, putting the show on hiatus, then sending it on the road to Cedar Falls until the Cedar Rapids venue reopened. The group has received everything from show choir costume donations to storage space for the new inventory of set pieces and costumes that can be reused and repurposed to look fresh and different from year to year. Sponsorships also help defray the $100,000 operating budget, with West Side Transport serving as this year’s presenting sponsor.

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Monetary donations also help fund the Gene Whiteman Scholarships, initiated last year with two recipients. It’s grown enough to grant $1,000 scholarships to four local students studying the performing arts, two of whom are in the show.

Performer/recipient Bailey Fah, 17, a senior at Springville High School, found out about the Follies last year through Facebook, and enjoyed the show’s family feel so much that she’s now back for her second year as a singer/dancer. She will use her scholarship to help buy books and help out with room and board next year at the University of Northern Iowa, where she plans to major in communications and minor in theater.

Recipient Joshuah Payne, 24, of Cedar Rapids, is a familiar face on the Corridor arts scene, performing with Theatre Cedar Rapids, City Circle in Coralville, and at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, where he’s majoring in music education and musical theater performance. He’ll split his scholarship money between tuition for the remainder of this year at Cornell and next year at the University of Iowa.

It’s his third Follies, after making a memorable debut in 2013, because of his tumbling skills.

“People might remember the year that the guy fell into the pit — that was me,” he said. “I was thrown a little too high on a flip and I didn’t know where I was on stage because the stage is black and you can’t see the audience. And so I just I landed too close to the edge and I fell into the pit. Luckily the orchestra was on stage in the second act of the show, and so I just I hopped up really quick and finished the number.”

The other scholarship recipients are Prince Wonlay Wonten, a senior at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School, and Katie Redden, a senior at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School.

“It’s essentially a dollars for scholars sort of situation where we want to be able to provide scholarships to students who are going to pursue or intend to pursue the arts as a career,” Boettger said.

“It’s a really big blessing,” Payne said of the scholarship. “It’s helped out a lot.”

Get Out!

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WHAT: Cedar Rapids Follies: “Planes, Trains & Automobiles: The Music that Moves Us’

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

WHEN: 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 30; 2 p.m. March 31

TICKETS: $22 to $42, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com/Events; students $17 at the ticket office

DETAILS: Crfollies.com/2019-show

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

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