Patrick B. McGuigan, Publisher & Editor
The City Sentinel Online
Oklahoma City – The annual gift celebrating fun, frolic and freedom — known as the Oklahoma Senior Follies — is fine, indeed. Performances are scheduled for Oklahoma City University’s Kirkpatrick Auditorium tonight (Saturday, June 1) and tomorrow afternoon (June 2).
The designated stars of the show are two Oklahoma legends.
The first, is Opera legend Leona Mitchell. In Act One she vamps things up a bit in solid delivery of the classic “Habanera.” Not to spoil the surprise, but read this carefully: The lady is downright sultry in a couple of numbers. What a joy to see her up close on an Oklahoma stage. She closes the show, leading the Company in “God Bless America and, to be sure, “Oklahoma!”
In a tight Act Two Set is the second headliner: Byron Berline, arguably among the best known fiddlers from Oklahoma, a man who has performed world-acclaimed singers for a half-century. Berline leads the Follies Band in “The Oklahoman Stomp.” Speaking of the trio in the band: Jake Johnson (piano), Clinton Trench (Bass) and Jamie Whitmarsh (Drums) are solid throughout the production, and had obvious fun in a jazz/western swing set with Berline.
The Follies King for this year is Bill G. Lance, Jr., secretary of commerce for the Chickasaw Nation. He looks downright regal with the crown atop, while holding the Royal Mace (or is it a scepter?)
Each year, in keeping with theatrical tradition rooted in the Ziegfield Follies of yore, several “Beauties” are designated in the Oklahoma show. Adorned in colorful headgear and Nineteenth Century finery, these ladies served well in the 2019 Royal Court: Ann Lacy, Jan Moran, Patti Mellow, Kay Manning, Kitti Asberry and Mary Jane Calvey.
The production amounted, informally at least, to a reunion for several members of the local Gridiron Club. For decades, local journalists (including, for 25 years, your humble servant) roasted national, state and local politicians in an annual parody raising money for a college scholarship fund.
Gridiron veterans in or tied to this year’s show include notable radio journalist Jim Palmer (the off-stage voice), his wife Billie Rodely (a Journalism Hall of Fame member who handled publicity and other chores for the production), Terry Runnels (highly experienced thespian and past director, who had several great duets or small group numbers throughout), Jackie Short (lawyer/Realtor and a member of the show company, also serving on the Follies Board of Directors) and the incomparable Jane Hall (who reprised her ‘Cha Cha Cha’ number with Charlotte Franklin (a welcome “ubiquitous” presence in this and past Follies).
Some special moments in this fine production are sketched just below.
Cathy Costello is among the best singers in the production, and she delivered magnificently in a prayerful rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” in Act One. Tom Nix has a fine version of “Laughter in the Rain” – accompanying himself on the piano. Dewayne McAnally and Christy Carson made a solid pairing for the blended tunes “Sixteen Tons/Fever,” while a favorite for this writer was the duo Nikki Singer and David Wood (“It’s Only a Paper Moon”). A vigorous Billie Thrash was full of verve, energy and strong delivery in a memorable version of “I’m Still Here.” (That tune and her rendition of it could serve as an anthem for many of us.)
What a joy to see Bob Windsor tap his way further into collective memories of his storied career, accompanied by his daughter Lexi’s strong voice in “Orange Colored Sky.” And watch for the lovely duet “Tonight,” in Act One, as presented by John Peebles and Leslie Perkel. To believe it, you have to see and hear Irv Wagner, senior leader of the T-Bones Trombone Quartet (sprinkled with members of the younger set).
Sprinkled throughout the show were the ladies of “Generations in Tap,” who stun every year with their agile dance numbers. Mercedes Russow returned to the stage to play a delightful Gershwin Medley. The spry 100-year-old classy lady is always a crowd favorite, a source of aspiration (and hope) for all who have earned the title “Senior Citizen.”
In varied roles throughout, these folks served well: Barbara Giager, Margie Peebles, Bob Davis, Tom Freeman, Pam Holzberger, Dot Liles, Kay Manning (also a “Follies Beauty”), Paul Coulter, Brenda Freeman, Neva Hames, Carla Joy, Barbara Bryant Waggoner, Riley Cleaver, Gary Sander and his wife Carol (also a Follies Board member).
Several excellent company numbers were highlights, including the opener, “Everything Old is New Again” and the first act closer (commenced by Christy Carson), “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” The vernarable Jim Henline graces the state frequently, with particular strength in closing numbers (including “God Bless the USA”). Henline is a like a force of nature for this show.
Artistic Director and Choreographer Sheridan McMichael delivers the goods with the obviously capable and professional assitance of Jake Johnson (Music), Rickelle Williams (stage manager), Jo Anne Kotlowski (costumes), Ben Hall (set), James A. Stuhlmiller), Dot Liles (program manager) and Deborah Minard (executive assistant).
Driving force behind it all is the graceful and ageless Bobbie Burbridge Lane. She started singing at the age of seven, and has never stopped. Through her local foundation, Lane has fought the good fight on multiple fronts. This year, Follies proceeds will help finance an impressive $5,000 contribution to support Alzheimer’s research.
Reminder: Performances are TONIGHT (Saturday June 1) at 7 p.m. and TOMORROW (Sunday June 2) at 2 p.m. For ticket information, call the Box Office: 866-966-1777; purchase tickets online www.okseniorfollies.com . The Kirkpatrick Auditorium (2501 North Blackwelder, 73106) is on the eastern edge of the beautiful Oklahoma City University campus