The last performance of the Will Rogers Follies last Sunday at the Whole Backstage included one extra, beautiful, mostly unscripted scene at the very end.
Josiah Rains – a member of the production’s “Cowboy Quartet” – got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend of 3 years, Lauren Benefield, who played one of Will Rogers’ “Six Single Sisters.”
The cast cheered.
The audience applauded.
Lauren couldn’t quite believe what was happening.
“It was the last show and we’d presented gifts to the directors,” Lauren said. “Steve Downs, who played Will Rogers, said there was one more thing we needed to do. He started singing the wedding song from the show.”
Lauren said she thought someone in the audience was about to be proposed to.
Then other cast members started pushing her to the center of the stage. She still didn't quite realize what was happening.
Josiah, who has been musical productions since he was in at least middle school, even got a little flustered and excited in the moment too.
“I had this script in my head of exactly what I was going to say and I couldn't remember anything,” he said. “I said something like, ‘I love you. Will you marry me?”
“He said, ‘I guess I better get down on one knee,’” Lauren said.
Lauren said everything “sounded garbled.” She said yes. Josiah wasn’t sure he heard her and even after they’d embraced, he asked, “You did say yes, didn’t you?”
A friend was snapping photos in the audience and captured the moment beautifully. The Will Rogers cast party at Jane Kohl’s place on the lake followed the show and it turned into an impromptu engagement party for the young couple. Lauren will soon be 21 and Josiah 20. They’re both students at the University of North Alabama and they both love performing on stage.
Josiah works at Cafe 336 and Rock House. Lauren works at Kohl Academy of Performing Arts. She was the dance captain for "Will Rogers Follies."
Their relationship came a long way for them to reach this point. Neither was looking for love when they found one another.
More than 3 years ago, friends thought it would be a good idea to set up the pair. Josiah liked Lauren. But she resisted. They’d known each other in middle school before she home schooled during her high school years.
“The biggest thing I remembered about him was he’d sang ‘Free Falling’ by Tom Petty when we were in middle school and he’d messed up the words,” Lauren said.
She describes herself as the biggest introvert in the world and Josiah as the biggest extrovert.
The friends said they were going exploring caves, but they ended up swimming at Short Creek Falls on that first outing. It didn’t go that well. But Josiah was persistent.
It eventually led to another double date with the friends, this time to Atrox, the haunted house near Birmingham.
“I really thought that was my chance,” Josiah said. “We got in a claustrophobic area and she touched my arm.”
He started messaging her on Instagram after that. But he’d still not won her over completely.
“If he ever started getting flirty, I’d tell him I had to go to bed,” Lauren said.
Later, she went to the friend’s house and Josiah was there practicing for auditions for a high school musical. He walked her to her car and kissed her and that was a turning point.
“I’d never even hugged a man romantically,” Lauren said.
Her mother Shana Benefield was excited about the courtship all along and encouraged her daughter to give Josiah a chance. Her father Toney was in Iraq as a government contractor.
“I was a little intimidated by that,” Josiah said. “I thought he was muscled up, 6-4 and looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
“Joe didn’t know he was working an office job in Iraq,” Lauren said.
His future father-in-law soon warmed up to Josiah just as Lauren’s mother had.
The couple’s relationship blossomed as they continued to date. Josiah lost his father Richard during his senior year at Guntersville High School. Having Lauren by his side during that trying time strengthened their relationship even further.
He is the exact middle child of 11 children of Emily Black.
Josiah and Lauren share lots of common interests. Both are into the performing arts. Lauren has danced at Jane Kohl's studio since she was 4. She appeared in “White Christmas” shortly after beginning dance and has tried to be in every musical she could since then. She is majoring in digital media with a minor in photography.
Josiah appeared in lots and lots of musical theatre productions at Guntersville High. He played the title character in “Shrek the Musical” and was Rapunzel’s prince in “Into the Woods.” He’s majoring in musical education and hopes to be a choral teacher someday.
Will Rogers Follies was the first play the couple got to perform in together.
They’d been talking about marriage. But Josiah wanted it to be a complete surprise when he popped the question. He bought the ring more than 6 months ago and even held onto it through Christmas.
There was more marriage talk just the week before he actually proposed at the Whole Backstage.
“I had to use my acting skills,” Joseph said. “I told her I wasn’t ready.”
Lauren was okay with that and thought it just might take a little more time. That’s one reason the onstage proposal took her by surprise.
And there’s a hook that comes right back to “Will Rogers Follies.”
“Like Will Rogers, Josiah has 6 single sisters,” Lauren said. “And I will have too once we get married.”