WALTHAM -- The Reagle Players pulled out all the stops with their first production of the summer, acquiring the original Broadway sets and costumes for ``The Will Rogers Follies" and splashing the stage with lavish décor from end to end .
There is no shortage of cowboys, chorus girls, charming children, fuzzy dogs, and rope tricks. But what is missing is a connection between Scott Wahle's portrayal of the title character and the swirl of action and emotion around him.
The ``Follies" is as much a tribute to Florenz Ziegfeld , master of the Broadway revue, as it is to Will Rogers. The stage teem s with Ziegfeld girls -- and boys -- who faithfully re - create Tommy Tune's 1991 choreography under the watchful eye of co-director Eileen Grace. The dancing is remarkably playful, while executed with a mechanized precision that contrasts with Rogers' s unique life .
Will Rogers was a multimedia star before the term was invented. A rope-twirler turned political satirist and comedian, Rogers was one of the best - known and best - loved American figures of the early 1900 s. He made his career on the stage (including with a long run in the ``Ziegfeld Follies" in New York) , on screen, and in print .
With music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green , ``The Will Rogers Follies" is an affectionate, if slow - moving, look at the events that led to Rogers' s success, including his struggle to earn his father's approval . In a nod to the fact that Mr. Ziegfeld -- who always insisted on the honorific -- always got his way, the chronology of Rogers's life is toyed with to generate a big closing number for the first act . Even so, the show meanders from Rogers's humble childhood in Oklahoma through his vaudeville days to the plane crash that ended his life.
Wahle, Channel 4's morning newscaster, is at the center of the action and cuts a very likable figure, always comfortable in his folksy addresses to the audience. But when it is time for him to show Rogers interacting with significant figures in his life -- such as his wife or father -- Wahle wanders too far toward the `` aw, shucks" side of things.
Rogers is known for his simple, delightful quips. But Wahle seems more comfortable orating than acting, which results in a lead portrayal that struggles to distinguish itself from the eye-popping scenery and acting behind it.
Sarah Pfisterer plays Betty Blake , Rogers' s wife . The Reagle production takes on a distinctly sophisticated air when she appears and sings ; the most notable is the Act 2 torch song ` `No Man Left for Me," in which Betty laments her husband's busy life. Harold ` `Jerry" Walker plays Will's father, Clem, with a ridiculous but somehow workable squawk to his speech and song. Dana Leigh Jackson has a thoroughly humorous turn as Ziegfeld's favorite girl, appearing in fewer and fewer items of clothing as the show continues.
The Reagle production is a visual success, to be sure. But the Ziegfeld element, however flashy, is supposed to support Wahle's star turn, not eclipse it . As it is, the Follies take the lead while Will Rogers comes in a neighborly second.