Sondheim’s “Follies” presented in concert Friday at Town Theatre (Pt. 2) - a guest blog by Charlie Goodrich

  Yvonne DeCarlo in "Follies" on Broadway

(In Part 1, Charlie Goodrich discussed his desire for years to produce Stephen Sondheim's Follies live on stage. Here he continues with the casting process.)

I now had 5 more major roles to cast among the “Present Day” characters: Roscoe, Ben, Phyllis, Vincent, and Vanessa.  Several months back, I had approached Jeremy Buzzard about being my musical director.  Buzzard, a brilliantly talented operatic singer, had appeared with me in Les Mis as the Bishop of Digne.  Jeremy enthusiastically agreed.  When it came time to find an “aging” tenor to portray Roscoe, the singer that opens the show with “Beautiful Girls,” it dawned on me that I had Jeremy already involved, and could make use of his gorgeous vocals, despite the fact that he is 40 years too young to play Roscoe.  With a little aging up though, he would be perfect, and Jeremy gladly agreed.  I was having a hard time figuring out whom to cast as the cool and sophisticated couple, Ben and Phyllis.  In my mind, I had 2 great candidates, but they are in their 30’s, not 50’s.  I finally realized, just as with casting Jeremy, that age is only a number, and looks can be adjusted to suit the part.  For Phyllis, I needed an actress that possessed poise, class, a beautiful singing voice, and strong dancing skills.  Phyllis not only taps in “Who’s That Woman,” but also has a tour de force dance solo in “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.”  I approached my own sister Rebecca Seezen, recently seen as Fantine in Les Mis, to take on the part, and she accepted.  For Ben, I needed an actor that is tall, attractive, and intelligent.  I worked with such an actor in Les Mis, Bryan Meyers, who I found to be all of those things, and to possess a beautiful voice.  Bryan enthusiastically took on the part, his first major lead in a theatrical production.  Awesomely enough, he found out last week that he will be starring as Curly in Town’s season opener, Oklahoma, and he joked that I was his talent scout.

Finally, I needed two ballroom dancers to play Vincent and Vanessa, and dance the beautiful “Bolero D’Amour.”  The number, which originated in the first production, has since been cut from most subsequent productions and deemed unnecessary to the plot.  I disagreed.  I find the beautiful dancing embodied by these characters to be a wonderful addition to a score made up primarily of emotional ballads.  My go-to for Vincent was Tracy Steele, who has choreographed me in several productions, and has the perfect sophistication and grace needed for the role. He also is an instructor at Columbia’s Ballroom Company.  He not only agreed to dance the role of Vincent, but to also choreograph the number. For the role of Vanessa, I thought of my friend and frequent director and costar, Jamie Carr Harrington.  I remembered Jamie stating that she enjoys dancing immensely and unfortunately does not have the chance to do so often.  She told me, “To me, dancing is fun because it is freeing.”  I agree with her 100 % and jumped on the opportunity to get her back on the dance floor.  With both of them cast, I was elated and excited to see this dance come together.   While I will touch on rehearsals and choreography in more detail in upcoming paragraphs, it is more relevant to mention the developmental process of “Bolero,” now rather than later.   I watched over a period of several Saturday mornings this summer as Tracy intricately pieced the Bolero together.  With each rehearsal, my excitement grew because this number is going to be a smash! Seeing Tracy’s choreography come to life reinforces exactly why I put this number in my production, because, as Tracy stated recently, “Dance represents a type of freedom.  It’s another language of expression used to convey emotion.  Dance is a conversation without words.”

Tracy Steele and Jamie Carr Harrington as Vincent and Vanessa

Then it came the time to cast the younger counterparts of the mentioned “Reunion Attendees.”  All of these casting choices became easy, because once again, there is an abundance of twenty-something and teenage talent in Columbia:  Richard Hahn, a local singer, would portray Young Roscoe; familiar faces from dozens of productions, Sophie Castell and William Ellis, would play Young Emily and Theodore; Erika Bryant, most noted for her portrayal of Cosette in Les Mis, agreed to play Young Solange.  Awesomely, Abigail Smith Ludwig (recently seen in Trustus’ Evil Dead: the Musical) agreed to play the younger version of her mother, Young Hattie.  Ashlyn Combs, fresh from playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid at Workshop,  would also play the younger version of her mother as Young Meredith.  She is joined in the tap dance by immensely talented teenage dancers Kimberly Porth, Zanna Mills, and Alli Reilly, who will portray Young Christine, Dee Dee, and Carlotta, respectively.  Allison Allgood (Shrek, Les Mis, and Lenny in Crimes of the Heart) will lead them as Young Stella.  Matt Wright, fresh from his performance as Donkey in Shrek and newly local ballerina Melanie Carrier, will dance the Bolero with their older counterparts as Young Vincent and Young Vanessa.  Karly Minacapelli, praised as Ellen in Miss Saigon, will beautifully accompany Mrs. Carmella Martin as Young Heidi.  Finally, Kristy O’Keefe, fresh from her performance as Tiger Lilly in Peter Pan will humorously bring to life the lyrics of “Foxtrot,” while her older counterpart sings, as Young Sandra.

Erika Bryant and Jami Steele (Young Solange and Solange) rehearse “Ah Paris” with Musical Director Jeremy Buzzard

The largest “youthful” parts however, belong to the younger versions of our four principles. Ben. Phyllis, Buddy, and Sally.  Young Ben needed the same qualities as his older counterpart, and it was easy for me to envision Anthony Chu, memorable as Bahorel and a Sailor in Les Mis, to take on the role.  Young Buddy, too, needed to be like his older counterpart, and I cast Drew Kennedy.  Drew is most noted as a local singer and guitarist, and was last seen on stage at Town in Joseph.

Drew Kennedy as Young Buddy, Andy Nyland as Buddy

For Young Sally, I fortunately got to make use of another mother daughter pair and cast Beth Allawos Olson in the part.  Beth not only resembles her mother, but perfectly brings to life the happiness and gaiety of Young Sally.  Unlike her 3 costars, Young Phyllis is the polar opposite of her older counterpart.  She is full of life, bubbly, pert, and ever hopeful.  Susie Gibbons, with whom I have worked with in Annie Get Your Gun, Les Mis, and Shrek, and who possesses a beautiful voice and amazing dance skills, was a natural choice.

Anthony Chu and Susie Gibbons                                           as  Young Ben and Young Phyllis

The last character I had to cast was neither a former Weismann performer nor a ghostly apparition, but rather a figment of Buddy’s imagination: his young mistress in Texas, Margie.  Usually in most productions of Follies, Margie is played by a member of the ensemble, and is only seen in “Buddy’s Blues.”  However, she is mentioned and addressed by Buddy in “The Right Girl.”  A great idea hit me: why not cast an actress as Margie, and have her appear out of Buddy’s imagination during the aforementioned number.  The very talented Emily Northrop agreed to portray Margie, and is sensational.

Ruth Ann Ingham and Andy Nyland as Sally and Buddy

Now that I had Follies perfectly cast, it was time to organize my plans for the production.  I made a schedule to get Jeremy working with all of the performers on their music.   Knowing how talented they all are, I knew that even Sondheim would not be too much of a challenge to their wonderful musical skills.  Dance wise, I knew that I wanted to recreate original Michael Bennett choreography/blocking for the majority of the numbers, especially in “Who’s That Woman,” and “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.”  But could I do it myself?  My only experience choreographing to date was one number, “No Time at All,” in the Pippin segment of my Damn Sweet Pajama Cabaret.  But I decided to jump in feet first and tackle the intricate Bennett choreography.  This decision would create my biggest challenge as a director/performer to date.  Luckily, the majority of it is available on YouTube.  Watching the original cast perform these dances hundreds of times, I was able to teach myself the choreography, while perfecting it in front of the mirror in the Town Theatre Green Room.

Rebecca Seezen and Susie Gibbons as Phyllis and Young Phyllis

“The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” is a complicated, quick, but exhilarating song and dance that ultimately won Alexis Smith the Tony Award for Best Actress in 1971.  The choreography that Michael Bennett gave her to work with has been unmatched since, and to me, is the only choreography that makes the number as effective as it should be.  However, for my production, instead of having Phyllis backed by a dozen chorus dancers, I am having her backed by only 2 specifically chosen males. One of them is Young Ben, who embodies the youthful personification of her husband, and represents the reason in which Phyllis fell in love.  The other is Kevin, also played by Matt Wright, who, in the libretto, is a young waiter that Phyllis fools around with at the reunion.

Rebecca Seezen and Bryan Meyers

“Who’s That Woman,” the original showstopper in the 1971 production, is perhaps, my favorite number.  Seven former chorus girls began to tap dance, and as the number increases in intensity, the ghosts of these women appear in the background upstage dancing the same dance.  In a burst of brilliance, past meets present as the number reaches a shameless climax.  As the 14 ladies finish the dance, the lights go out, and we see the seven “present day” ladies alone on stage, the ghosts having vanished.

Bryan Meyers and Ruth Ann Ingham

I found this use of past meeting present to be simply amazing, and decided to incorporate in all the numbers that I could.  Therefore, all of the “younger” characters have solos as they perform songs and dances with their older counterparts.  This illusion is seen now not just in “Who’s That Woman?” but also “Beautiful Girls,” “The Rain on the Roof,” “Ah Paris,” “Broadway Baby,” “Bolero D’Amour,” “One More Kiss,” and “Can That Boy Foxtrot.”  While “Bolero,” and “Kiss,” traditionally have always made use of this illusion, the other mentioned numbers have not, and I am excited to bring this innovation to them.  It was important to me that each actor appearing in Follies have his or her time and talent utilized as much as possible.  By doing so, all of my performers can exhibit to the audience why they are 38 of the most talented folks in Columbia.

Ethel Barrymore Colt in the original cast of "Follies"

Now that you know the background on the show, and my reasons in casting, there is nothing else for you to do but see the show! I can assure you that this is going to be a fantastic show.  My actors have worked so hard throughout the summer to present Sondheim’s classic to the Columbia audience for the first time.  Rehearsals have come together brilliantly.

Just to recap, the numbers that you will see performed are: “Beautiful Girls,” (Roscoe and Company) “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” (Buddy, Ben, Phyllis, Sally, Young Buddy, Young Ben, Young Phyllis, Young Sally) “The Rain on the Roof,” (Emily and Theodore; Young Emily and Young Theodore) “Ah Paris,” (Solange and Young Solange) “Broadway Baby,” (Hattie and Young Hattie) “The Road You Didn’t Take,” (Ben) “Bolero D’Amour,” (Vincent, Vanessa, Young Vincent, and Young Vanessa) “In Buddy’s Eyes,” (Sally) “Who’s That Woman,” (Stella, Meredith, Christine, Dee Dee, Phyllis, Sally, Carlotta, & Their Youthful Counterparts) “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” (Sandra and Young Sandra) “I’m Still Here,” (Carlotta) “Too Many Mornings,” (Ben and Sally) “The Right Girl,” (Buddy and Margie) “One More Kiss,” (Heidi and Young Heidi) “Could I Leave You,”  (Phyllis) “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow,” (Young Ben and Young Phyllis) “Love Will See Us Through,” (Young Buddy and Young Sally) “Buddy’s Blues,” (Buddy, Young Sally, and Margie) “Losing My Mind,” (Sally) “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” (Phyllis, Kevin, and Young Ben) and “Live, Laugh, Love.” (Ben and Company).

The show goes up on Friday, August 15, at 8:00 PM at Town Theatre. Tickets are $10/General Admission, and are available by phone (799-2510) or at the door. Thank you for taking the time to read about a project that is of the utmost importance to me, and I look forward to seeing each and every one of you at Follies!

Selections from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in Concert

Friday, August 15, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Directed by Charlie Goodrich

Musical Direction by Jeremy Buzzard

All Choreography (After Michael Bennett) by Charlie Goodrich

Except: Bolero D’ Amour Choreography by Tracy Steele

Costumes by Christy Shealy Mills

Scenic/Tech Design by Danny Harrington

Lights by Amanda Hines

Sound Design by Robert Brickner

Stage Manager: Jill Brantley

Assistant Stage Manager: Russell Castell

Dance Captain: Allison Allgood

Pianist: Susie Gibbons

Photography by Rebecca Seezen, Britt Jerome, and Charlie Goodrich

Choreographer Christy Shealy Mills talks about "Hello Dolly," opening in Blythewood April 2nd


Columbia is undeniably a theatre town, and it's no longer limited to the downtown area.  Every few years, theatre enthusiasts in the Midlands see a need and an opportunity, and another group is born. Lexington, Chapin, West Columbia and Forest Acres are all home to thriving performance groups, and now Blythewood joins the mix.  Choreographer Christy Shealy Mills took a moment to talk with Jasper about the upcoming production of Hello Dolly, the debut presentation of the Blythewood Community Theatre.

Jasper:  How did this group get its start?

Choreographer Christy Shealy Mills

Mills:  The folks in Blythewood have wanted to get their own theatre group going for years, and finally found someone willing to take a stab at directing, Rachel Tefft.   Out of the forty something cast members, about 1/3 of them have taken part in previous Midlands area productions. The rest are all newcomers. This new local theatre group will draw in people who might not otherwise get involved in such offerings.

Jasper:  You're actually commuting to choreograph this show, right?  How did you become involved?

Mills:  I live in Prosperity in the corner of Saluda County and have three dance studios, in  Lexington, Batesburg, and the one in my backyard, as well as satellite classes at Town Theatre in Columbia.  I am not sure how I became involved with Blythewood, other than the director , Rachel Tefft , whom I had never met, called me back in November and asked me , and said I was highly recommended.  I don't know where that came from, but the flattery worked.  She wasn't even sure which of three shows they were going to do, but I knew something about Hello, Dolly and was familiar with most of the music, and hoped it would be this one. I didn't know at the time just how much choreography that would be - it's a good thing I like challenges.

Jasper:  Have you always been a dancer and teacher?

Mills:   I have been dancing since I started classes at the age of three. My first ever performance,  I did the entire routine with my back to the audience. I don't remember ever NOT wanting to do this as a career. As a matter of fact, I do remember as a high school freshman taking a career aptitude test, and complaining to my parents at dinner that night that there was no career choice of dance instructor mentioned. My dad, looking quite horrified, said "a DANCE TEACHER? Why would you want to be a dance teacher? Dance teachers are kind of...tacky."  That cemented my career choice, and I have been trying to live up to that opinion ever since.

Jasper:  Which groups have you been involved with locally?

Mills:  I first become involved in community theatre with George Boozer's fabulous Lexington Arts Association revues starting about 1972 or '73.  That was REALLY community theatre. This Blythewood group  reminds me of those fun productions - all these rookies not having a clue what they are getting into, and just how much that theatre bug is biting them with each and every passing day. It was the same way in Lexington. Those huge musical revues caused me to make friends and memories that will last a lifetime.  Plus, I learned about theatre, and increased my dance, music and even history knowledge. Once I had the first of my four children, I stopped doing theatre until 2010, when I was blessed to be a part of Town Theatre's Annie.

Jessie Ellwein and Samantha Livoti rehearse "Hello, Dolly"

I did choreograph some full length musicals for Lexington High School during the baby years, and have done lots of pageant choreography. And, of course, I have been teaching dance since I was 14.  I choreographed Gilligan's Island - the Musical and portions of Nunsense Jamboree for On Stage Productions, but the first full length show I choreographed was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Town Theatre. It was quite an undertaking, but Scott Blanks was such fun to work with - a creative genius. Now that I think about, all the the directors I have worked with have that genius touch. I guess that is why they are directors, huh?

Jasper:   Hello Dolly certainly has a rich history, based on Thornton Wilder's hit comedy The Matchmaker, based in turn on an older Austrian work, based on an older English story, but this is the most famous version, and the one with all the familiar songs.  Why this particular musical?

Nicholas Sargent (Cornelius) and Sara Bailey ( Mrs. Malloy) come through the polka dancers, in a rehearsal for "Hello, Dolly"

Mills:    The reason this was the choice (of the three possible shows  that were being considered) was the casting - after the great turn-out at auditions, Rachel could see that she had the right leads for Hello, Dolly, so that did it. It is huge undertaking.  I was a little worried, because there is no canned music, so working with live musicians introduces a whole new element to the works. I love live music, and it never ceases to amaze me how musicians who have never played together before can come in a week before the show opens and make it happen.  We have been sort of feeling our way as we go with this first show.

William Ellis,  Dan Reyes and Nicholas Sargent rehearse "Hello, Dolly"

Jasper:  Hello, Dolly was a huge success when it first debuted, winning a record-setting 10 Tony Awards (including best musical, best score and best book) and running for over 28oo performances, another record at the time; its movie version won three three of the seven Oscars for which it was nominated.   There have been a number of successful revivals on Broadway since then - why do you think the play still resonates with contemporary audiences?

Mills:   It's just a fun, colorful, lively trip into yesteryear - a delight for the ears and eyes.  The music its timeless.  “It Only Takes a Moment" - a song about love at first sight - is lovely and rings true no matter the era. The tunes will have the audience tapping their toes and humming on the way home. I know these songs have been in my head for months.

Jasper:  Tell us about your cast, and where we might have seen them before.

Ermengard (Zanna Mills) is consoled by Ambrose (Taylor Diveley)


Mills:  Kathy Seppamaki-Milliron (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Town Theatre, Legally Blonde at Workshop) plays Dolly Levi.   Emily Clelland (Chicago at the  Kershaw Fine Arts Center) and Zanna Mills (Shere Khan in The Jungle Book at Town Theatre)  alternate as Ermengard.  Rachel Arling (Annie at Town Theatre) plays Minnie Fay. William Ellis (Albert in Bye Bye Birdie at Westwood High) plays Barnaby. Annie Laurie Sutton-Rumfelt (Annie  and Joseph... at Town Theatre) plays the most spirited Ernestina there could possibly be.  Taylor Diveley plays Ambrose and has appeared in several Columbia Children's Theatre shows.   Dan Reyes (Horace Vandergelder), Sara Bailey (Mrs. Malloy), Nicholas Sargent (Cornelius) and Eric Bothur (Rudolf) are all newcomers.

Jasper:  What are some challenges you have faced as choreographer?

Mills:   I had never actually seen Hello, Dolly, so when people kept referring to the "waiter's dance," I thought they were talking about the big "Hello, Dolly" song.  I am a one-day-at-a-time kind of person, and was just working on the routines when the director told me to.   So when I finally noticed in the score the music for “Waiter's Gallop" - the one with no lyrics - I thought that was just an interlude piece for the band.  I can't quite remember how I came to realize that it was actually an eight minute dance routine for only the waiters!  I probably went into shock and have blocked that moment from my memory. But my spirited twelve dancing waiters have been motivational for me. In hindsight, I should have started that routine first instead of last, but it has come together and hopefully will entertain the audience. I don't want to give away all our secrets, but let's just say there's tap dancing , baton twirling, juggling, some upside down antics, perhaps some unicycling ( still trying to get the unicycle functional) and some hoochie-coo.  I thought the other challenge would be getting the entire cast to waltz, but they are such troupers, it was a piece of cake. All fun stuff, and I am going to miss this group come April 6 (the last performance.)

Hello Dolly pr photo


Blythewood Community Theatre's production of Hello, Dolly runs Wed. April 2 through Sunday April 6 at Westwood  High School.  Tickets can be purchased online at or at the door.

~ August Krickel