Follies have impact

Broadway’s Will Rogers Follies musical has just completed a year-long nationwide tour starring the incomparable Larry Gatlin as Claremore’s favorite son.

The final venue was the impressive Walton Theatre in Fayetteville and attended by another Claremore native, Mrs. Sam (Helen Robson) Walton, who was given a standing ovation after Gatlin announced her presence during curtain call.

After 982 performances at Broadway’s Palace Theatre and winning six Tony Awards as best musical in 1991, the show has often toured the United States and played in most other English-speaking countries.

Gatlin, following Keith Carradine and Mac Davis as the star on Broadway, often reappears as the show reappears. Gatlin wrote in the foreword of Joe Carter’s latest book, The Quotable Will Rogers, that playing Will Rogers “... made me a better person. Unlike Ol’ Will, I’ve met a few people I didn’t like (and vice versa). But after playing Will, it doesn’t happen as often and I get over it quicker.”

The State of Oklahoma and Claremore likewise are blessed by the show. Attendance at the museum in Claremore, the birthplace ranch near Oologah and tourism for Oklahoma are definitely increased when the show is on the road.

More importantly, the faint image of Oklahoma is painted vividly by the exuberant songs, enjoyable music, colorful performances and the high values of Will Rogers on display.

The boost in image, tourism and the economy come at no expense to Oklahoma. It is a huge blessing from Broadway and show business in much the same vein as another hit musical, “OKLAHOMA!” lifted the state from a stricken, dust bowl image.

Larry Payton of Celebrity Attractions in Tulsa was responsible, one again, for booking “The Will Rogers Follies” in Tulsa and Oklahoma besides other venues he vigorously serves.

Phoenix Productions of Maryland, over the years, are generally the God-send folks who arrange the tours -- all at no cost to Oklahoma.

It has been proposed that the State of Oklahoma purchase a Broadway Theatre and through modest rentals to various producers, both “Oklahoma!” or “The Will Rogers Follies” could be played continuously in New York.

That’s a day dream, of course, but seven decades following his death in Alaska, Will Rogers remains and wholesome role model for humanity.