Arts & Culture

'America the Beautiful' title of 2011 Central Coast Follies show

From left, Judy Straw, Pat Ward, Jean O’Carroll and Marlene Lackey in Thai-inspired costumes from last year’s Central Coast Follies’ show.
From left, Judy Straw, Pat Ward, Jean O’Carroll and Marlene Lackey in Thai-inspired costumes from last year’s Central Coast Follies’ show. COURTESY OF THE CENTRAL COAST FOLLIES

‘America the Beautiful” is the title of this year’s Central Coast Follies show, as a cast of 111 singers, dancers and aerialists celebrates patriotism and pays tribute to the military.

“There seems to be so much discontent and so many worries in America, we want to remind people what a great country this is,” said Dixie Parker, assistant director. “We want audiences to go out of the theater feeling proud and blessed to be in America.”

This is the ninth annual Parkinson’s benefit show, with all proceeds going to Parkinson’s research. The Follies has donated $187,000 to the Parkinson Alliance since the first performance in 2003. At that time dancer Emily McGinn and a group of other dancers approached choreographer Jason Sumabat and said they wanted to put on a show.

“Jason said he would direct it if it was for a worthy cause,” Parker said.

They selected the Parkinson Alliance, which has matching funds donated by the Tuchman Foundation. At the time the Clark Center was new, and an ideal venue for the show. The performances since then were produced by Bernie Kautz, who passed away in February.

“Bernie really believed in it,” Parker said. “We have all taken on different jobs to keep doing what she did, with the help of her records.”

The shows feature 23 Follies Dancers, all 55 or older. Some of the original members of the group are in it, and younger women are in training.

“Some of the dancers are now in their 80s, and you would be hard-pressed to tell which ones,” Parker said.

Jason Sumabat’s brother Randal Sumabat designs the often-elaborate costumes, which the dancers construct themselves. He has created 22 versatile pieces for each woman. The dancers pay for their own costumes and dance lessons. The annual show is a perennial project. They begin learning new steps a week after one production is over. As rehearsals begin, director Sumabat comes up from San Diego every Sunday to work with the dancers.

Open auditions are held each year, and this season’s show includes Kindred Spirit, a choral group of 24 women, as well as solo singers Roy Henry, Judy Philbin and Karinda Scott.

There are 22 children in the cast. Seven-year-old Trevor Quezada is the first child to have a solo dance in a Follies show. He is a student at Dellos Dance Studio and has won a competition award. Children from the White family have been in the performances since the beginning. Kimberly started when she was 3 years old.

“Her brother Mike, who also started with us, is now 16 and too old for children’s roles,” Parker said. “But he will dance for the first time with the Follies in a few numbers, and will also sing.”

An aerialist from the group Suspended Motion was in last year’s show and was such a hit that three aerialists are in this year’s show.

The Follies has become more popular each year, Parker said, and the community has been supportive, donating funds for posters and advertising. The first show had two performances. This one has six. In keeping with the theme, for every performance the first row of 16 seats has been reserved for military or retired military and their spouses or guests. Tickets for these seats are complimentary and can be requested by calling 801-3496.

Last year’s show donated $28,000 to the Parkinson Alliance. The benefit has become more personal in recent years, Parker said, as the husbands of three of the Follies dancers have Parkinson’s.

“It’s good to know that 100 percent of what we donate is used for research.”