The 56th annual Santa Cruz Follies proves that age is just a number
When third generation Santa Cruzan Jim Idleman steps onstage, Jim Idleman no longer exists. In his place stands a tattered Fred Astaire from the 1948 musical film, Easter Parade. At his side, Barbara Wright stands tall, with the grace of Judy Garland. Together, the two perform “A Couple of Swells,” one of several songs that will anchor the 56th annual Santa Cruz Follies, kicking off Sept. 14 at The Civic Auditorium.
“We tried to get this [piece] as authentic as we can,” says Idleman. “We are actually characters in those costumes—we become somebody other than who we are.”
Offering an escape for locals age 50 and up since 1955, the musical revue—a fundraiser for Senior Citizens Opportunities, Inc. (SCO), produced by The Market Street Theatre—gives 40 people the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a live audience.
According to Lynn Knudsen, a former professional dancer on Broadway, now performing for her seventh year with the Follies, “the concept of what a senior is, is changing. [It’s] no longer an elderly person who wants to play cards,” she says.
The Outreach Coordinator for a fundraising arm of the SCO, Knudsen helps the organization raise money to provide adults with the means to pursue their love of theater via the Follies. Choreography for the variety musical begins in November, auditions take place in February, and musical arrangements commence in May, all in preparation for the September debut.
For Knudsen, the year-long endeavor is “not only a busy time and something to keep [us] occupied—it does something for the spirit.” In other words, “it’s preventative medicine,” she says.
This year’s theme, “Dancin’ Down Broadway,” was chosen by performer, choreographer and six-time director, Bari Miller, who has a theatre arts/dance degree from San Jose State University.
“Dancin’ Down Broadway” presents renditions of celebrated Irving Berlin compositions, including a charming version of “Easter Parade,” equipped with elegant costumes by Kris Wheeler, and comedic duets, like “Anything You Can Do,” by Steve Hendricks and Joyce Michaelson.
Other must-see performances include the charismatic female solos, “Losing My Mind” and “I’m Still Here,” from the 1971 Broadway musical “Follies,” with lyrics by Academy, Tony and Grammy award-winner Stephen Sondheim. His beloved musical numbers from “West Side Story” will also be featured; nine actresses present “America” in its vivacious entirety, while several male performers portray the lovable pack of smart-aleck delinquents, The Jets, in “Officer Krupke.”
“It’s really thrilling to put on these costumes and dance,” says Carole English, of her involvement in “America” and the “Blue Skies” tap dance routine. “What I find is that I’m fearless—when I’m on stage, I’m happy.”
Even past performers, like volunteer usher Lorraine Carini, still feel the Follies “gives you something to live for. There’s something really special about this group. [It] brings a lot of happiness.”
For that reason, Kathryn Adkins, who teaches theater and directs shows at Cabrillo College, can’t wait to direct the Follies for the first time next year. “Working with these people is fabulous,” says Adkins. “The audience loves this. It’s a real gift.”
The Santa Cruz Follies debuts at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Sep. 14 and runs until Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. $20/Adults, No Cover/Kids under 12. 423-6640.