The G'ville Cast Members of Will Rogers Follies

Guntersville cast members of the Will Rogers Follies include, from left:

Front - Deacon Rains, Tallulah Rains, Evelyn Jordan, Mac Burns, Kevin Robinson and Merrin Blackburn.

2nd row - Chloe Townley, Ethan Cole, Ellie Burns, Millie Claire Woodard and Caroline Smith.

3rd row - Karen Fancher, Emma Black, Lauren Benefield, Josiah Rains and Alaina Keller.

Back - Lila Jane Bonds, Faith Payne, Tracy Downs, Steve Downs, Tiffany Zahn and Brandon Wilson.

The Whole Backstage Community Theatre in Guntersville, with the benevolence of season sponsor Sonny Lewis, will present its 2019 summer musical, The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue. Performances will be on July 19, 20, 25, 26, 27 at 7 p.m. with Sunday matinees on July 21 and 28 at 2 p.m.

“We are so fortunate that Steve Downs is reprising his memorable and masterful portrayal of Will Rogers from our previous Whole Backstage productions. And for a special treat, we are bringing back our professional roper, Bruce Brannen from Montgomery, to entertain us with his captivating lasso act,” explained director and choreographer Jane Kohl. “As a Dance Instructor for many years, I am especially excited that we are utilizing the choreography inspired by the original dance sequences of the acclaimed Tommy Tune, director and choreographer of the award-winning Broadway musical.”

With rope tricks, insightful dialogues, clever one-liners, natural charm and humor, and expressive ballads, Will Rogers (1879-1935), “the cowboy philosopher,” conveys a rare, down-to-earth wisdom that transcends the stage. This fact-based story chronicles the life of the American humorist, author, star of Broadway, film, and radio, social commentator, and Presidential candidate, along with segments with his wife, Betty. Set to music and action in Ziegfeld-styled ornate and glamorous costuming, combined with toe-tapping dance numbers, The Will Rogers Follies will entertain an audience of all ages.

The Alabama Bicentennial Initiative is in partnership with this Whole Backstage production, commemorating the heritage of Will Rogers and his great-grandfather, John Gunter, founder of Gunter’s Landing settlement in the old Indian Territory, that grew to become the City of Guntersville. As a descendant of Guntersville’s founder, the Chamber of Commerce scheduled Rogers as the keynote speaker at the 1935 annual banquet, just months before the adventurous Rogers and friend, the famed pilot Wiley Post, were killed in an Alaska-bound plane crash.

The production team includes, Jane Kohl as director and choreographer, Johnny Brewer as musical and technical director, Jan Price as choral director, vocal coach and costumer, Julie Oliver as assistant to the director, Lauren Benefield as dance captain, Hannah Yost as assistant to the dance captain, Denise Resler as costume coordinator, Robin Moore as lighting designer, Wes Rorex as lighting technician, Rodger King as lighting technician and lighting board operator, Dave Welch as sound technician, Dana Thomas as sound board operator, Dick Ruhlman as photographer, Pat Schobert as props manager; Susan Ruhlman, Mary Ruth McCord, Kim March-Force, Juanelle Ritchie, Debra Mays, and Elyse Jordan, as costumers/seamstresses; Patrick Fogarty as lead set construction; Deon Smith and Drew Hunter as set builders; members of the Black Tie Chorale as a backstage chorus, and Katherine Brewer as sound board operator and publicity coordinator.

The talented cast of characters and crew, by hometown, are:

Guntersville - Steve Downs as Will Rogers, and his real-life and onstage wife, Tracy Downs as Betty Blake; Ellie Burns as Ziegfeld's Favorite; Lauren Benefield as Dance Captain, Single Sister, Ziegfeld Girl, and Indian Princess; Tiffany Zahn as Single Sister, Ziegfeld Girl, and Indian Maiden; Alaina Keller as Single Sister, Ziegfeld Girl, and Indian Songstress; Emma Black as Single Sister, Ziegfeld Girl; Faith Payne as Ziegfeld Girl, and Indian Maiden; Josiah Rains as Cowboy Wrangler, Indian Dancer; Ethan Cole as Cowboy Wrangler, Off-Stage Announcer and Radio Announcer; Brandon Wilson, as Cowboy Wrangler; Tallulah Rains as James Rogers; Mac Burns as Freddy Rogers; Caroline Smith as Ziegfeld Girl; Millie Claire Woodard as Ziegfeld Girl; Evelyn Jordan as Wild West Show player; Chloe Townley as Props Mistress; DeZaray Richey, and ZaKiya Richey as Stage Crew; Karen Fancher as Rehearsal Accompanist.

Douglas - Lila Jane Bonds as Ziegfeld Girl.

Huntsville - Christopher Carter as Will’s Father, Clem Rogers; Deacon Rains as Will Rogers, Jr.

Birmingham - Merrin Blackburn as Mary Rogers.

Arab - Mitchell Duquette as a Cowboy Wrangler; Della Mae Beard as Mary Rogers; Emma Hinote as a Ziegfeld Girl, Tony Wildfong as Crew Member, April Duquette as Rehearsal Accompanist; and Rodger King of Joppa as Lighting Board Operator.

Albertville - Hannah Yost as Assistant to the Dance Captain, Single Sister, Ziegfeld Girl, Indian Maiden; Kevin Robinson as Freddy Rogers; Morgan Parker as Cowboy Wrangler; Savannah Jane Smith as a Ziegfeld Girl.

Boaz - Rafe Boatfield as Will Rogers, Jr.; Landon McCann as a Wild West Show player; Emily Giles, Kyle McCann as Stage Crew.

Geraldine - Patrick Fogarty as Peter the Stage Manager, Lead Set Construction.

Gadsden - Blake Allen as Wiley Post.

General admission tickets are now on sale for Will Rogers Follies with $12 for student tickets, $18 for senior adults, and $20 for an adult ticket. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 256-582-7469, or visit the office at 1120 Rayburn Avenue/Dot Moore Way in Guntersville, Monday through Friday during business hours; or send an e-mail;or view the WBS on Facebook; or visit the website:

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