Hoopla

Taking the Cedar Rapids Follies in a new direction

Damon Cole 

co-director

C.R. Follies
Damon Cole co-director C.R. Follies
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The spotlight shines on new faces with every Cedar Rapids Follies, but the unsung hero in the orchestra pit has been making the show sing for 35 years.

Damon Cole’s fingers have been flying across the keyboards since 1983, first as the Follies accompanist, then as the music director. When Follies founding director Bob Geuder retired following the flood of 2008, Cole stepped into the artistic director role, as well.

The flood also swamped the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids, sending the Follies on the road to the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls. “But Follies is a Cedar Rapids things, so back we came,” Cole said.

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.'

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After a hiatus in 2011 and 2012 while the Paramount was being renovated, Follies returned to its former home in 2013, cutting back from six performances to three.

Cole’s role changed again two years ago, when he began sharing co-artistic director duties with Alisabeth Von Presley. He handles the music and she creates the choreography and staging.

“It’s still fun,” he said. “It’s been fun putting the whole thing together the past two years.”

“We’re like a double-headed dragon,” said Von Presley, 32, of Cedar Rapids. “We both have the same amount of say in what shows up on the Paramount stage, and I think we’re a really good team. He’s got 35 years of experience and I’ve got a new fresh look, and we meet in the middle.”

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Still, Cole waxes nostalgic for the earlier days when the musical revue performed more old-fashioned fare that appealed to a typically older Follies audience and to the 93 performers onstage.

“I think the new objective is to get a younger audience in there,” he said, noting that newer music has been incorporated into recent productions.

With this year’s theme of “Plane, Trains & Automobiles: The Music That Moves Us,” he still was able to “squeeze in” some popular ’40s tunes and styles, and the familiar comedy through-line is back, too, with Lindsay Prince writing the script.

Cole also added several singers to the 14 instrumentalists in the orchestra pit, to help pump up the vocals while the performers’ feet are flying onstage.

“It just makes sense, especially with Alisabeth’s rigorous choreography,” he said. “We also have a really good younger chorus. There’s some real stars in there.”

Von Presley is excited about the breadth of the production.

The theme was decided by a committee, she said, and then about eight people, including the directors, brought song suggestions to the table.

“Damon and I matched over half of our songs, so that was awesome,” she said.

And with the variety of musical styles, she’s created a variety of dance, incorporating tap, ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop and classical musical theater style.

“The show this year will connect with people of all ages,” she said. “We’ve got the modern stuff from ‘The Greatest Showman,’ and then the classic Follies’ 1940s train medley.

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“I think both of our brains working together brought something truly magical to the stage this year,” she added. “I’m super proud of the show.”

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

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