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‘An ambitious show’: The ‘Follies’ revival plays North Las Vegas

Updated April 12, 2024 - 7:18 pm

The Kats! Bureau at this writing is a booth at Access Showroom at Aliante. Rehearsals for “Follies” are ongoing. This is the little show that could. Or the very big show that might.

“Follies” is the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1972 Broadway classic, running for six shows beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and continuing Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (For intel and to book, go to ShowgirlsComeHome.com, AlianteGaming.com or Ticketmaster.com.)

The cast is almost entirely Las Vegas entertainment pros, 75 singers, dancers, actors and musicians are on stage. Another 25 work back stage. The orchestra is the vaunted Jazz Outreach Initiative (JOI) of Las Vegas.

Rarely, if ever, have so many Vegas performers assembled for an off-Strip, limited-engagement run.

Producers Tom Michel, David Robinson and Sean Stephenson of the new nonprofit Vegas production company Metropolis Theatricals Las Vegas are bringing the show to the stage. Robinson, who had been lead director, has been sidelined by illness during the show’s rehearsal run. Sarah LeClear has taken that role, adding to her dancing and choreography duties. She and her husband, the accomplished dancer Alejandro Domingo, are on stage together.

The quartet of lead performers are all familiar around Las Vegas. Michelle Johnson (Las Vegas’ “First Lady of Jazz” and a frequent headliner at Myron’s), Christine Shebeck (“Metamorphosis” and also Myron’s on her resume), Randal Keith (the booming-voiced Jean Valjean of “Les Misèrables,” and a cast member of “Phantom” and “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers”) and Sam Holder (“Oklahoma” in his many ventures).

A genuine musical-theater star, Andrea McArdle revives her role as Broadway Baby. McArdle launched her stage career her as the original “Annie” in the late-’70s.

The “Follies” storyline is that of a veteran producer conducting a final reunion of the casts of his annual “Follies” productions at a theater named for himself. The building is being demolished for a parking garage. The performers gather for a sentimental re-tracing of their prime years, invigorated by the music, spectacle and costumes of their heyday.

It’s a story that serendipitously follows Vegas’ own history of demolishing historic venues. But “Follies” is challenged so obviously in a city where musical theater and Broadway-styled shows characteristically struggle — even on the Strip.

Las Vegas residents get their Broadway fix at Reynolds Hall; the last Broadway-fashioned production to attempt a run in Vegas was “Bat Out of Hell,” which faltered even after a visit from a shaman to rid the negative energy from Paris Theater.

“Follies” is beloved by Sondheim fans. But are there enough potential ticket-buyers to fill a showroom in North Las Vegas? Michel, whose disposition is relentlessly sunny, regardless of the challenges, says he needs only to sell 1,000 more tickets through the six shows. “That’s just five hundred couples.”

Michel reasons that Las Vegas is a very late-to-buy crowd. We’ll find out if that is true in North Las Vegas. There are hundreds of seats available through the six performances. Tickets stat at $135 a pop, more than $100 higher per ticket than a typical show at the 580-seat Access Showroom.

Those ticket-holders are in for a rich musical-theater experience. There are a dozen former Vegas showgirls in the cast. Merald “Bubba” Knight, the indefatigable former Pip and Gladys Knight’s older brother, is in the show. Highlighted in the show are opera star Frederica von Stade and97-year-old Anna Bailey, who is the first African American showgirl ever to appear in a Vegas production. Bailey also performed at the Moulin Rouge, backing Pearl Bailey, in 1955.

Elsewhere, Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton-Holmes; Nicolas King from “Beauty and the Beast” and Seth Sikes (known for his Judy Garland tribute); and opera-musical theater performer Kate Kinhan are also confirmed for the production. Among the Vegas entertainers throughout this cast: Vocalist great Tim Molyneux, Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear in “Starsky & Hutch”), Skye Dee Miles, Denise Rose, Linda Woodson, Katy Monroe, Steph Payne, Michelle Marshall and Jenny Malcomb.

A couple of prominent members of the original troupe are not in the cast. Comic great Pete Barbutti and singer/stage performer Gabriela Versace were to perform a comic piece that by characters written into the script. That is a violation of Musical Theater International’s regulations permitting the “Follies” to go forward as a licensed production.

Barbutti and Versace were informed by Michel just this week they would not be on stage, and only after a re-read of the show’s licensing agreement. Versace had cleared her schedule to be in the production; Michel has promised she would be paid — along with the full cast and crew — regardless of the show’s box-office performance.

Barbutti, who at age 89 is no novice to live performance, compared the experience to the 1939 musical, “Babes in Arms.”

“It’s like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland; let’s rent a barn and put on a show,” Barbutti said. “It’s an enormous thing … We’ll have to see, but this is a very ambitious show to put on.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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