By Carolyn Johnson
Spring is officially here, after a harsh, cold … well, after winter. It’s time to enjoy blossoms, daffodils, tulips, and … high school musicals. Area high schools are offering a variety of shows that are sure to lift your spirits without breaking your budget. One that topped the charts this month was “Will Rogers Follies,” presented by Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, New Jersey March 16-24.
Rogers earned his fame in Vaudeville, Broadway, film, and in print. He wrote more than 4,000 newspaper columns, syndicated nationally, and made many national radio appearances. His political commentaries were couched in his own humorous folksy terms, and were widely quoted: “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”
Set against the Follies backdrop, Rogers’ humor, coupled with the fun music and dancing, including a complex hand jive performed by a cast of 52 (45 high school and 7 grammar school students), made this show a thrill to watch. Girl actors came from Academy of the Holy Angels, Immaculate heart Academy, and Mary Help of Christians, and St. Paul’s Inter-parochial School.
The Rogers character, brilliantly portrayed by Bosco senior Patrick Sweeney, brought the audience from laughter to tears and back again. His acting and singing were outstanding, and he performed rope tricks between scenes. Sweeney offered snippets of Rogers’ famous homespun style of wisdom and common sense and effectively conveyed the personality of this quintessentially American figure. “When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read: ‘I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like.’ I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.” Sadly, Rogers died in an airplane crash in Alaska on Aug. 15, 1935.
Courtney Kofoed beautifully portrayed Rogers’ wife Betty, while the aging and then post-humus Rogers’ father Clem was played by Bosco’s John Geraghty, and Ziegfield’s favorite dancing girl by Jaclyn Scerbak. Noteworthy talent behind the scenes includes Director Jodi Capeless, Choreographer Kimberly Galberaith, Producer Lucille Conzo, and Musical Director Ed Ginter.
Award winning set designers Mary and Chris Mitsinikos created a traditional “Follies” set of stairs that made this musical larger than life – they spanned the 35’ width of the stage.
Mary Mitsinikos describes the process, “The Bosco stairs started as 120 2’ x 4’s in my garage, where they were cut, row by row, by my husband Chris, to my design measurements. They were sent over to Bosco where a team of Dads constructed them. The total height was 6′-8″. There were 4 side staircases and stairs at the back to let the actors come “over the top.” All these side stairs let us get the large amount of dancers on an off the stairs as quickly as possible. The stairs were back lit with 55 rainbow colored LED lights.” The Mitsinikos are clearly dedicated. (Their son Owen played Roger’s son).
Senior performers in Bosco’s theatre program were acknowledged at the end, including Patrick Sweeney. Sweeney noted that he will miss his friends at Don Bosco. He has loved doing four years of great musicals there. It was a tremendous effort, but he had a great time on stage and behind the scenes. He plans to continue to grow as an actor pursuing a drama degree in college. I assure you; this is a talented young man to watch for in the next decade.
Bosco’s school Director/President, Reverend Jim Heuser noted that the school’s namesake, Saint Don Bosco, valued theatre as a tool for entertainment and instruction. Fans of television and movie phenomenons Glee and High School Musical might note, while Don Bosco high school is nationally recognized for it’s football program, it’s theatre program seems to make Bosco a place both athletes and thespians can call home. As Heuser says, “this “football school” is indeed so much more.”