Palm Springs Follies....An Inspiration for Audiences of All Ages

People find inspiration in various ways. Some look to their favorite sports figure, others read motivational books, research their favorite historical character, or simply enjoy inspiration when and where ever it turns up.

Our inspiration turned up on the stage of the Follies Theatre in the heart of Palm Springs, California. It’s hard not to sit through the spectacular show without dropping your jaw at the energetic performance of the cast, whose ages range from 54 to 83 years young. Trim and ever-so-fit, this inspiring troupe consistently sings and dances its way into the hearts of the audience, and has done so for two decades.

Now in its 22nd year, the Follies play a key role in the entertainment landscape of Palm Springs. The production boasts its own historic, Spanish revival theatre situated in the heart of downtown. My husband Tony and I, visiting in December, were intrigued by this season’s show entitled “Dance to the Music.” True to the title, the first act took us on a delightful musical tour of the last century, from the “Boogie Woogie” dances of the WWII era through the rock ‘n’ roll of the ‘50s, the Beatles and Motown tunes of the ‘60s and into the psychedelic disco era of the ‘70s. And the entertainment didn’t stop there…

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It isn’t easy to capture the attention of any audience, young or old, for a full three hours, but Tony and I agreed that we were not bored for a second during this Follies performance. As soon as you enter the theatre, the surprises begin. The lavish costumes and set décor are something one would expect on Broadway or in Vegas. Riff Markowitz opens the show and is the consummate comedian and impresario, leading you through the various acts with charm and classic humor. His improvisational comedic dialogue as he interacts with audience members in the first row of the theatre is witty and spontaneous and had the audience laughing uproariously as a result.

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The various acts are peppered with lusty and lively performances such as that of Mat Plendl, who mesmerized the audience with an unlikely instrument of expression---the hula hoop! Brandishing as many as six hula hoops at once, positioned at various parts of his body, Mat took a humble child’s toy and transformed it into performance art. With unparalleled technical skill, combined with elements of mime, musical comedy, and dance, it’s no wonder that Mat has achieved international acclaim. In our evening performance, the audience held its communal breath as he spun his hoops in a dizzying, and truly unbelievable, show of speed, strength, and skill.

The Follies singers and dancers—resplendent in a wide variety of dazzling costumes to match each set-- never fail to impress. In addition to several well-executed holiday song and dance routines, the troupe closes the production with a rousing and touching musical salute to veterans of all branches of the military. The well-designed staging and lighting, which also featured a video screen in many scenes, complements the musical talents of the cast—creating a definite “wow” experience for the audience.

The highlight of the evening arrived when Lorna Luft took the stage. Lorna, born in 1952 to legendary entertainer Judy Garland and producer Sid Luft, belts out a performance that is reminiscent of Garland’s vocal power and stage presence, while reflecting Lorna’s own exceptional tone and phrasing. Her soulful rendition of the classic jazz standard, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” definitely caused a goose bump or two among the audience, as did her passionate execution of “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.” Her youthful good looks and incredible vocal power and stage presence are definitely impressive.

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We think this talented cast of “seniors” is an inspiration for people of any age. I know Tony and I left the theatre with the promise to dance more, sing more, and enjoy our lives to the fullest as we travel down life’s highway. Thank you, Palm Springs Follies, for this valuable inspiration.

NOTE:  After almost 5,000 performances, the Palm Springs Follies closed their doors in 2014.