REVIEW: Catch a falling star at Florence’s fabulous ‘Follies’


Dec. 1, 2018 — Deck the halls with boughs of holly — disapproval would be folly. While there’s a lot of jolly and rambunctious folly, no one, not even the Grinch or Scrooge, can disapprove of the 2018 “Holly Jolly Follies” on stage this weekend at the Florence Events Center.

Titled “Starlight” and presented by Children’s Repertory of Oregon Workshops (CROW), this year’s “Holly Jolly Follies” community variety show casts a warm glow of poignancy as the exceptional cast, about 100 strong, most of them youth, tells a story of dreams fulfilled when you open your heart.

“Starlight” was written by prolific playwright and actor Rose Ellen Jacobson, who is the wife of Mike Jacobson, accomplished vocalist, actor and comedian. They are the parents of CROW Artistic Director Melanie Heard, the show’s outstanding director. These professionals comprise Florence’s first family of theater, and we are grateful that they have bestowed their gifts where the river meets the sea.

Upon listening to “There is a Star that Shines Tonight,” a song by Sheryl Crow, Ellen got to wondering what would happen if a star fell out of the sky. That’s when she was inspired to write “Starlight,” the story of a tiny elf wishing on the stars only to have a star fall at her feet. Try as she might, she can’t put it back. Will she succeed? No spoiler alerts here, except to say that the very song that inspired Ellen opens the show.

When Ellen wrote the script, she had the perfect actor in mind — Zhade Beers, a pint-size, adorable, bright 7-year-old who never misses a cue. Stagecraft runs in families. Zhade’s mother is Maree Beers, who also participates in the show. Maree, an always sizzling singer, swings a medley of the New Year’s anthem and some bluesy Christmas cheer.

Zhade, the tiny elf, is assisted by bigger well-meaning but silly elves and guided intermittently by the Keeper of Stars (Tamara Szalewski), an elegant fairy godmother in a silvery gown and a sparkling cape.

From time to time, the Keeper of the Stars’ Star Polish Crew wheels out their cart of mops and brooms to keep the stars shining. When they closed Class Act Theatre earlier this year, Rosemary and David Lauria said they’d return to the stage. Here they are in three funny sketches, polishing the stars once more.

The Holly Jolly Follies is a Florence tradition, the showcase of a plethora of talent. “Starlight” includes singing ensembles, duets and solos; contemporary interpretive dancing, ballet, hip hop, Greek folk dance and not one but two sets of tappers; and comedy, both gentle and raucous. The latter category is represented by the Tutu Dads, a half dozen pairs of beefy arms and hairy legs, beards and bellies, all adorned in pink and white tutus, cracking frilly ribbons that sound like whips, and pirouetting like Sugar Plum Fairies. Hats off to these hilarious good sports!

“Starlight” includes appearances by local celebrities. Mayor Joe Henry reads a story to pajama-clad kids. Siuslaw News Editor Ned Hickson reprises his role as Elfis. He doesn’t sing as The King, but he does sing as himself in a duet with his wife Alicia, who also plays Prissy the elf, and he illustrates a fake commercial for dunder-drug Poxziva. Wayne Sharpe of KCST Radio joins Zhade elf to sing “When You Wish Upon A Star.”

There are too many wonderful stars in this show to mention everyone by name in this limited space. Know that you are all to be applauded with handfuls of stardust. There are, however, a few highlights among highlights that need to be singled out: Stunning vocalist and harpist Sylvia Hartman; multilingual Mike Jacobson reprising his role as Latin lover Amarillo Snowden singing in Spanish with spouse Dolly Dinkle (Genevieve Meltzer) and as himself singing a lovely aria-like duet in Italian with Denise Dee; Tamara Cole singing a delightful song wishing for a hippo (Trudie Cahoon); inimitable and svelte vocalist Fanny Rugburn (Jason Wood); and superb young pianist Ramiro Ramirez swinging the eighty-eight with “Linus and Lucy.”

Out of town guests include the Revelers Aerial Performers from Eugene, three young women swinging from the ceiling on hoops and ribbon-like ropes — a dazzling display of dexterity, style and grace.

There’s lively music by the Buck and A Quarter Band, wonderful costumes and very special effects.

Now that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, open your heart to “Starlight” and your holiday wishes will come true.

“Holly Jolly Follies: Starlight” opened Friday and plays through Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St. For information, call 541-997-1994, go to www.eventcenter.org or visit www.crowkids.com.