REVIEW: Follies creates a sonic sh-boom

Audience, cast twist and shout through best of the baby boomer years

Diana Nollen
Published: March 16 2014 | 9:48 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:41 am in

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Follies is sporting a different kind of bling this year, trading feathers for love beads, glam for go-go boots, while still flashing plenty of sequins and tuxes.

“SH-BOOM!” whisks audience members back to sock hops and Motown, Vietnam, the Beatles, folk and rock, wishing the last of the baby boomers a happy 50th birthday.

An invited crowd of friends and family whooped it up at Friday night’s final dress rehearsal, reveling in the golden oldies and so many golden moments. The musical revue opens with two performances Saturday and continues with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday (3/16/14) at the Paramount Theatre.

The show’s title song sets the bar high, and it just keeps on going higher and higher, right down to the final bows on “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

The scenery and costumes capture the essence of each section, from bobby soxers to hippies, highlighted by dazzling lighting and choreography. Damon Cole’s orchestra is spot-on at every turn, with some especially blistering trumpet and horns ushering in the Motown medley.

The singers, dancers and specialty acts — including octogenarian Gene Whiteman as the world’s oldest teenager — are simply amazing throughout.

Between the kids, teens and adults, about 100 Eastern Iowans bring highflying fun and heartfelt emotion to the soundtrack of the ’50s and ’60s. My favorite section was the Beatles medley, probably because the Beatles remain one of my all-time favorite bands. Plus, the singers just look like they’re having so much fun.

Various Follies favorites are in fine form on their solos. Oscar Ritchie IV has the perfect velvet voice to wrap around “Blue Velvet” and any other song in which he gets a featured moment. Lori Ferguson’s killer voice and killer keyboards create a sonic earthquake on “I Feel the Earth Move.” Tracy Price pours so much emotion into “Imagine” and Mike Holmes with his power tenor soars through “Sixteen Candles.”

And of course, the audience cheered every time Doug Jackson brought his megawatt smile to the stage, with “Shout,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine” and the first solo on “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Those are all crowd-pleasers anyway, but Jackson just kicks it all up a few notches.

Some of the lesser-known performers pack some of the strongest punches. I don’t recall hearing Treashana Baker before, but I certainly hope we get to hear her many times, in many shows. She brought the Motown sound to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and was even better with a glamorous, heartbreaking solo turn on “Abraham, Martin and John.” She has such a glorious voice and stage presence that she creates two very special moments. Amber Hansen owned her spotlight, too, strumming an acoustic guitar under her reedy, folksy vocals on “Both Sides Now.”

The Follies kids are always adorable, but this year, when they belt out “Kids,” clad in adult-sized suit jackets and frumpy dresses, they’re just a hoot. In the second half, they make the sweetest flower children for “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”

I don’t want to give away too many surprises, so I’ll just warn you to be on the lookout for the Purple People Eater. Ooh-eee. And get ready to twist and shout through a nearly two-hour blast from the past.

If you go

  • What: The Follies: “SH-BOOM!”
  • When: 2 p.m. Sunday (3/16)
  • Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
  • Tickets: $19

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