“Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Review” kept audiences roped into their seats at the Wallace Theatre.
California Baptist University’s spring production was a musical biography of Will Rogers, a cowboy film star and comedian from the early 1900s.
Theatergoers stuck around at the theatre for a while, as this play is a long one.
The first act was about an hour and a half, with a 15-minute intermission and a one-hour final act.
The sheer length of the play was the only drawback of an otherwise solid production.
Familiar faces are featured among the leading players. Will Rogers was played by Samuel Rodriguez, Rogers’ father Clem was played by Michael Ring and Rogers’ Wife Betty was played by Julie Ann Thomazin.
Those three have 12 previous CBU theatre performances combined.
The production featured excellent vocal performances by the leads and the chorus. It also featured a strong orchestra conducted by Philip Miller, professor of music.
Elaborate sets were key in the portrayal of Rogers and the follies. Big costumes and bigger scenery made it easy to slip into the “roarin’ 20s,” when Rogers was his most successful.
In the play, the story of Will Rogers is told through a representation of an actual “Will Rogers Folly.”
It begins with Rogers’ birth and childhood. His difficult early life as his father’s only son led Rogers to run away from home and pursue a career in show business.
Rogers meets his wife at a train station and takes a job performing rope tricks in a traveling wild west show.
Eventually, Rogers gets noticed and is invited to perform on Broadway in the famous “Ziegfeld Follies.”
The plot then follows Rogers and his family through his greatest successes, the Great Depression, and eventually his death in a plane crash.
The show focuses on Rogers’ willingness and desire to help others. He is depicted as making it his mission to meet-and-greet as many people as he could in his time on Earth.
Rogers continued to live his mission of impacting others as he went on to perform on the radio and in film.
One of the most gripping moments of the play is when Rogers reenacts a speech that he gave on the radio in an attempt to encourage Americans during the Great Depression.
Following the speech, Rogers’ father accepts him as a worthwhile son.
Ring, as Clem Rogers, delivered an excellent performance and provided the much needed comedic relief in the show.
Rodriguez also delivered a strong performance and held down the stage well for most of the show.
Justin Ward, Victoria Karr, Gavin Wolkon, Garrett Wolkon and Xavier Vanuelos made guest appearances in the show as Rogers’ children and trick ropers.
Overall “Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Review,” was an artistic look at an interesting and nowadays relatively unknown man.
However, it could have conveyed its message in about 30 fewer minutes.
There are three more showings, April 20 at 8 p.m. and April 21 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.