NCHS students brush up on history for ‘Will Rogers Follies’
Published 11:37 am, Tuesday, March 14, 2017
NEW CANAAN — It’s not uncommon to see high school students studying.
The leads in New Canaan High School’s production of “The Will Rogers Follies, A Life in Revue,” however, were studying for a different reason, and their research took them far and wide in an effort to learn about the real-life people they are to portray. Senior Joseph Turner, who plays Will Rogers, took a trip to the Lincoln Center Library to watch the original Broadway production of the show just to better understand his character.
“He was a rope-spinning cowboy turned humorist/columnist for the New York Times,” said the 17-year-old. “He was loved by the whole country and could make fun of politics without hurting people’s feelings.”
The musical follows the life of the famous Rogers, a cowboy, entertainer and folk hero whose story is told through song and dance numbers reminiscent of a Follies production with tap dancing and rope twirling. The show, with a cast of about 45 students, touches upon Rogers’ relationship with his father, his marriage and his decision to join the famous Ziegfeld Follies.
See the show
Demers and Turner described the musical as the Rockettes, “but with a story.”
The actors, including their co-star, Jack Dahill, who plays Rogers’ father, put in a lot of research to make sure they were honoring the inspirations behind their characters.
Dahill said Clem Rogers, the character he portrays, was more stiff in real life than his dramatized counterpart. The senior — who was recently accepted to the Tisch School at New York University as an acting major — said he had to work to compromise both portrayals of the Cherokee senator.
“You have this real person, and then you have this character,” said Dahill, 18. “In the show he’s very vaudevillian, but that wasn’t who he was as a person. You try to find a middle line between the real person and the larger-than-life character.”
Demers said she initially struggled with her character. Compared to her famous husband, there was very little information on Blake. Demers said she eventually found a reputable site and learned a lot about her, including her background being raised in a large family by a single mom.
“She really knew how to take care of herself and other people, which made me realize who she is as a character,” Demers said. “Not only was she Will’s wife, but she was his caretaker.”
Students playing fictional characters got to get a little more creative. Junior Lauren Smith is portraying one of Florenz Ziegfeld’s favorite girls, and gets to play multiple parts throughout the numbers, including an engineer, a flower girl and a cowgirl.
“She’s not a very shy person,” Smith said. “She does everything to please Ziegfeld, so she’ll one day be a star. It’s not my personality, so discovering her was a bit of a challenge.
“But,” the 16-year-old said, “it’s so fun getting to go between so many different personalities.”