Bush is heard in voiceover only, playing Flo Ziegfeld, who speaks to Will Rogers god-like, from on high in the theatre. Subtitled A Life in Revue, the Tony Award-winning show is presented as a Ziegfeld Follies show telling the story of humorist-actor-writer Rogers from birth to death. Gregory Peck provided Ziegfeld's voice on Broadway.
Larry Gatlin is a friend of George Bush Sr. The idea of using the former commander-in-chief for the Ziegfeld voice was Gatlin's, and he personally made the request of Bush.
Gatlin appeared as Will Rogers on Broadway, after Keith Carradine and Mac Davis played the part. The tour launches June 23-29 at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, MO.
Jane Bodle (recently a Fantine in Broadway's Les Misérables) is Gatlin's Mrs. Rogers and George Riddle plays his Pa.
The show will be seen at four theatres this summer, all sharing the producing burden, with Dallas Summer Musicals serving as point producer. Rehearsals prior to the Kansas City run were in New York City. The Strarlight was the launchpad for the national tour of 42nd Street a year ago, and is the starting place for Thoroughly Modern Millie's tour this summer. This new Will Rogers Follies is directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun and will play Dallas Summer Musicals July 8-20, the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis Aug. 5-10 and the Fox Theatre in Atlanta Aug. 12-17.
The show won 1991 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score (Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green), Best Director (Tommy Tune), Best Costumes (Willa Kim), Best Lighting (Jules Fisher) and Best Choreography (Tune).
Larry Gatlin, who most recently toured with The Civil War, the Musical, won solid reviews for his portrayal of Will Rogers in the Broadway production and national tour of Follies in 1993. Keith Carradine originated the role.
Director-choreographer Calhoun recently directed and choreographed the critically acclaimed, award-winning Deaf West production of Big River at the Mark Taper Forum. The show won nine L.A. Drama Critics Awards and six Ovation Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction and Best Choreography. He will helm the Deaf West Big River for Broadway, too. It begins performances July 1 at the American Airlines Theatre.
Calhoun also directed and choreographed the Broadway revival of Grease!, for which he received a Tony nomination.
D.J. Salisbury is associate director-choreographer. He served as dance assistant for The Will Rogers Follies and Titanic. He's the artistic director and co-founder of the Musical Writers' Playground, a workshop for lyricists, librettists and composers.
Roger Kirk is designing costumes for this staging. Marcia Madeira is lighting designer. Abe Jacob is sound designer.
Musical director is Ray Allen. The company includes Nicolette Hart (Stand By Your Man) as Ziegfeld's Favorite, Jason Edwards as Wiley Post (and Will understudy), with Ashton Byrum, Roger J. Barbieri, Nancy Beard, Kirsten Brant, Jaime Fisher, Jennifer Frankel, Melissa Hillmer, Jaymes Hodges, Donna Kapral, Louisa Kendrick, Shane Kirkpatrick, Brittany Marcin Koski, Danielle Mathews, Morning-Star Mosley, Rachael Nelson, Jillian Lynn Owens, Keenah Reid, Jessica Roach, Erica Lynn Rominger, Katie Stipe, Jill Wolins, Andrew Blau, Jay Jackson, Sky Jarrett and Jessica Minor.
For information about the Starlight Theatre leg of the tour, call (816) 363-STAR or visit www.kcstarlight.com.
The Broadway musical premiered at the Palace Theatre May 1, 1991. It played 982 performances.