The Will Rogers Follies – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1991
The curtain rises on a gigantic portrait of the real Will Rogers, as a chorus sings the soaring “Let’s Go Flying.” Then instantly we’re at The Palace, and a beautiful, leggy Ziegfeld Girl – identified only as Ziegfeld’s Favorite (Cady Huffman) – Ieads dancers and chorus through a rousing production number, “Willamania.” Rogers (Keith Carradine) enters – lowered, appropriately, on a rope –, sings a chorus of “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” with a wistful, open-prairie feeling, then launches into a signature monologue. As always on stage, Rogers carries his trademark lariat while, in another lively production number, he tells us to “Give A Man Enough Rope.” Rogers talks to the members of this New York audience as casually as if they were old friends from the Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), where he was born – of white and Cherokee ancestry – in 1879. And because he’s narrating his own life story, he sends us back to the ranch, where his father Clem (Dick Latessa) and Will’s six single sisters are celebrating his birth (“It’s a Boy”). The turning point in what would have been a rancher’s life, we learn, was Rogers’s decision to see the world. He departs with the poignant “So Long Pa.” But before he goes, the unseen, imperious Flo Ziegfeld (the voice of Gregory Peck) reminds him he has to “meet the girl” – his future wife, Betty Blake (Dee Hoty). In absurd/exotic Ziegfeld style, we meet her … on the moon, where she is waiting for love to come along (“My Unknown Someone”). She and Will meet, he departs for. two years … But Betty can’t wait that long, so we are immediately whisked, courtesy of Mr. Ziegfeld, to the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. Will has put his ridin’ and ropin’ skills to work in Texas Jack Mulhall’s Wild West Show, where he shares the stage with a hellzapoppin’ “Wild West Show” / “Dog Act.” Despite Betty’s misgivings about marrying a show-business cowboy, she accepts Will’s proposal, and for a moment it seems “We’re Heading For a Wedding.” But according to Mr. Ziegfeld’s formula, the wedding has to end the first act – and we’re not there yet – so the ceremony is postponed as Will, in the song “The Big Time,” tells Betty he is giving up his career in “show business” to go into vaudeville. During the course of this number, they acquire four children, completing the Rogers family. Rogers and family roam the Midwest, Will ropin’ and jokin’, and Betty’s misgivings come rushing back as strong as ever – the rueful, loving “My Big Mistake” – when a telegram arrives inviting Rogers to play The Palace as a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. In another miraculous Ziegfeld time warp, Rogers’s success as host of the Follies through the second decade of the 1900s leads him to radio and to Hollywood, but before he can head West, Act I does end with Will and Betty getting married in a production number in the classic Ziegfeld tradition (“Marry Me Now” / “I Got You” / “First Act Finale”). The entire company joins as the Rogers family heads for California and the next stage in Will Rogers’s career, Act II opens with an “Entr’acte,” then a brief reprise of “Give a Man Enough Rope” / “Rope Act,” with a world-class lariat artist. Another Rogers monologue finds him accompanying himself on guitar, addressing what’s happened to the land he grew up on (“Look Around”). America’s most beloved star now, Rogers is approached about running for President in the 1928 election. He decides to run as the candidate of the DeBunk Party, and joins another unforgettable Tommy Tune production number, “Our Favorite Son.” Talking pictures add to Will’s fame and wealth, but the public’s insatiable demands on him take him from home for long periods, leaving Betty to sit on a piano and sing another Ziegfeld staple, the bluesy “No Man Left for Me.” Will returns from the road with a treasury of precious jewels, “Presents for Mrs. Rogers,” which are mirrored in the Ziegfeld showgirls’ spectacular costumes as they descend a majestic staircase in a blaze of dazzling light. The number is interrupted by creditors and bill collectors, who come on stage to claim their property. Ziegfeld is broke; the Great Depression has arrived. Here the show takes a significant turn, as Keith Carradine recreates the speech Will Rogers made to the nation at the request of President Herbert Hoover. There is an emotional reconciliation between Rogers and his father (“Willamania” reprise). They are joined by the entire chorus, which leads us to Wiley Post calling Will to his fated trip to Alaska. Will says his last goodbye to Betty (“Without You”). This culminates with Rogers and cast singing the song that encapsulates Rogers and his philosophy, the moving and powerful “Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like”. This takes us to the finale of an unforgettable evening in the theater, telling the story of an unforgettable man.
Ziegfeld’s Favorite: Cady Huffman Will Rogers: Keith Carradine Unicyclist: Vince Bruce Wiley Post: Paul Ukena, Jr. Clem Rogers: Dick Latessa Will’s Sisters: Roxane Barlow, Maria Calabrese, Colleen Dunn, Dana Moore, Wendy Waring, Leigh Zimmerman Betty Blake: Dee Hoty The Wild West Show: Bonney Brackney, Tom Brackney with: B.A., Cocoa, Gigi, Rusty, Trixie, Zee Betty’s Sisters: Roxane Barlow, Maria Calabrese, Colleen Dunn, Dana Moore, Wendy Waring, Leigh Zimmerman Will Rogers, Jr.: Rick Faugno Mary Rogers: Tammy Minoff James Rogers: Lance Robinson Freddy Rogers: Gregory Scott Carter The Roper: Vince Bruce The Drugstore Cowboys: John Ganun, Troy Britton Johnson, Jerry Mitchell, Jason Opsahl The New Ziegfeld Girls: Roxane Barlow, Maria Calabrese, Ganine Derleth, Rebecca Downing, Colleen Dunn, Sally Mae Dunn, Toni Georgiana, Eileen Grace, Luba Gregus, Tonia Lynn, Dana Moore, Amiee Turner, Jillana Urbina, Wendy Waring, Christina Youngman, Leigh Zimmerman The Voice of Mr. Ziegfeld: Gregory Peck Musical Direction: Eric Stern Orchestrations: Billy Byers Vocal and Dance Arrangements: Cy Coleman “Presents for Mrs. Rogers” Arranged by Larry Wilcox Assistant Conductor, Piano: Karl Jurman Keyboards: Patrick Scott Brady Drums: Ray Marchica Percussion: Joe Passaro Bass: Richard Sarpola Guitar, Banjo: Scott Kuney Pedal Steel, Fiddle, Guitar, Banjo: Larry Campbell Trumpets: John Frosk, Joe Mosello, Danny Cahn Trombones: Jim Pugh, Larry Furrell, Paul Faulise French Horn: Anthony Cecere Woodwinds: Chuck Wilson, Dale Kleps, Alva Hunt, Vincent Della Rocca, Frank Santagata Concertmistress: Amy Wyrick Violins: Rob Shaw, Heidi Carney, Karen Karlsrud, Dale Stuckenbruck, Cecilia Hobbs, Charles Libove, Eugene Orloff, Eric DeGioia, Sanford Allen, Regis Iandorio, Louann Montesi Violas: Crystal Garner, Al Brown, Sue Pray Cellos: Joe Kimura, Mark Shuman, Jesse Levy