Since joining the Central Coast Follies, Barb Thompson has lost 15 pounds and gained a lot of friends.
“I feel now like I belong to this extended family,” the Arroyo Grande woman said. “It’s just a great group of people.”
Founded in 2003, the Central Coast Follies features a cast of energetic performers ages 50 and up singing and dancing to everything from time-honored classics to contemporary hits. The group’s latest musical revue is “What’s in a Name?” playing Friday through Oct. 9 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande.
This year’s song-and-dance extravaganza, directed and choreographed by San Diego choreographer Jason Sumabat, finds the Follies exploring the theme of identity through songs such The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Mr. Bojangles,” Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue.”
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“There’s a song in there for every person that’s in the audience,” said producer Dixie Parker, one of the Follies’ founding members. “Each song they hear will bring up memories they have about a particular name.”
“What’s in a Name?” will showcase 25 dancers and 20 singers — mostly women, with a couple of men — backed by a live band featuring William “Bill” Wingfield on bass, Josh Collins on guitar, Teddy Ramierez on drums and Paul Burkle on keyboard and piano.
Also performing are Suspended Motion Aerial Arts of San Luis Obispo and local teens Bree Forster and Trevor Quezada.
As in the past, net profits from “What’s in a Name?” will benefit Parkinson’s disease research. To date, the Central Coast Follies, which partners with local Parkinson’s support groups, has donated $323,500 to The Parkinson Alliance.
According to Parker, who lives in Arroyo Grande, that cause has always been at the heart of the Follies’ shows. Her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1990; he passed away in 2014.
“Our audience surprised us with the level of community support” from the start, Parker, 83, said.
The first year, the Follies presented just two performances.
Popular demand dictated that the group add two dates the following year; it now does six.
“The Follies are dancing because they love to dance, but they continue the hard work they’re doing because they know they’re helping someone else,” Parker said, noting that performers buy their own costumes and pay for their own dance lessons.
“Each year I keep thinking, ‘I’m going to keep dancing and we’re going to find a cure for Parkinson’s,’ ” said Thompson, who saw two friends diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the past year.
Thompson, who turns 70 in October, joined the Follies four years ago — shortly after moving from Humboldt County to San Luis Obispo County.
“It was a difficult transition,” the retired administrative coordinator acknowledged, but one that was eased by her involvement with the Follies.
“Dancing to music has always fueled me. It brings me a lot of joy,” she explained.
Santa Maria resident Karen Rasch, who joined the Follies in April, said the group has made her feel right at home since her arrival on the Central Coast last spring. The 70-year-old credits Sumabat with helping create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
“He never gets angry. He never gets upset. He’s so gracious and loving,” said Rasch, an Emmy Award-winning film editor, sound editor and script supervisor whose credits include “The Addams Family,” “Dick Tracy” and “Men in Black.” “His graciousness and his kindness and his love of dance … filters through the whole group.”
Plus, Thompson said, Sumabat and his assistants — assistant director Marianne Conner and assistant choreographer Marybeth Costanzo — keep the Follies on their toes, challenging them with complicated numbers and unexpected song selections.
“We’re always learning new steps. He doesn’t make it easier on us because of our age,” Thompson said with a chuckle.
Last year, she said, the dancers donned brightly colored costumes to perform Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
“It was wild. The curtain went up and you could hear people go, ‘Ahhhh.’ They didn’t expect these old ladies to come up with this,” Thompson recalled. “You just never know what he’s going to do.”