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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Peter Marshall Still has that Magic
in Palm Springs Follies

Peter Marshall, probably best known as the original host of Hollywood Squares, is headlining the Palm Springs Follies through February 29th. This 77 year old still has a melodic crooning voice and he projects a warm nostalgic feeling when singing the swinging sounds of the '40s and '50s. Marshall is a laid back individual who does not try to wow the crowd. He has that quiet charisma that makes the audience feel very relaxed. I am reminded of all of the great crooners who sang with the bands of the swinging 1940s; in fact, Peter debuted as a band singer.

Marshall is no stranger to musical theater - he starred with Chita Rivera in Bye Bye Birdie in London and then went to Broadway in such musicals as Skyscraper, High Button Shoes, Anything Goes, The Music Man and 42nd Street. He also did more then 800 performances in the role of Georges in La Cage Aux Folles around the country. His most recent appearance was as the radio crooner in the film adaptation of Annie.

Marshall performs a great group of nostalgic songs during his 20 minute part of this Follies. Many are from Fox musicals, such as the Alice Faye song "You'll Never Know" and "The More I See You." There are melodies from the Big Band era like "Moonlight Serenade," "Green Eyes," "Tangerine," and "I Don't Want to Walk without You." Marshall says not all of the swinging years songs are classic, and he segues into "Three Little Fishes." Every note is smooth and his voice is still strong. He also has great presence in his form-fitting tux.

The theme for this year's Palm Springs Follies is Hooray for Hollywood, and the show features songs from films in those golden years of Fox, Warner and MGM musicals. The opening shows a Hollywood film studio with those lovely ladies and good looking gentlemen who are 55 plus. They still look professional, and all those years of training and performing certainly shows in this number. Leila Burgess, who is 68 (she was managing director for the famed New York Latin Quarter for many years and was a dancer in many early television shows), is sublime in "Dancing in the Dark" and 86 year old Beverly Allen (who recently was awarded the title World's Oldest 'Still Performing' Showgirl) can still do a good tap dance routine.

Chile's Jose Olates' Canine Capers in the first act comes on with a fast paced old vaudeville dog act with the pooches jumping, running through hoops and climbing small ladders. There is even one canine who does an amazing double flip. These guys and dogs never stop.

The Follies chorus is outstanding in the Ziegfeld number, "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody". The women's costumes are gorgeous with opulent gigantic headdresses of rhinestones. Each introduces herself and gives her age. The newest and youngest member is Trina Parks, age 56, who appeared as Thumper in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. She was also a principal dancer for the Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey Dance companies. Parks does an amazing, soul searching arrangement of "Stormy Weather." Pure elegance is Natascha Ahlborn, age 68, who was a former lead dancer for the Follies Bergere and the Lido show in Paris. What poise and grace Natascha has on stage. Judy Bell (Las Vegas showgirl for over 40 years), age 66, still has a gutsy voice in such songs as "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody."

Fifty-four year old Dick France (first Broadway show was Seventeen and played Joey in Pal Joey in London) still hoofs with the best of them. Randy Doney, age 63, is the epitome of a Las Vegas chorus "boy" with that special Vegas smile that all chorus boys have in "sin city." (Randy was a regular on the Carol Burnett show for 11 years and appeared in many original Broadway musicals including My Fair Lady.)

The British comedy duo, "The Jolly Rovers," are also on the bill. This happily married 74 year old comedy couple has appeared in many Las Vegas showrooms and on many television shows like "Ed Sullivan" and "The Steve Allen Show." They really don't do much, but her contagious giggle and laughter make you love watching them.

Producer Riff Markowitz is the M.C. and has that Catskills style humor that was prevalent in the '40s-'60s: a lot of zingers, old jokes and stories. However, he does update the material to go along with current events like the gay marriages here in San Francisco. He even tells the audience that the population of Palm Springs is now 50% gay and the favorite holidays are Gay Pride Day and Halloween, and he can't tell the difference between the celebrations. His timing is impeccable.

The production numbers are top flight and this is no cheap touring type show. The Ziegfeld production number would make the great master proud. The World War II number features the front of a bomber that almost looks real and, at the end, a large Uncle Sam balloon is blown up to cover the large stage. It could be in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Yes, those last numbers are hokey, but you still get a lump in your throat with all of the old fashioned patriotism, ending with the audience standing and singing "The Star Spangled Banner,"

After the performance, Peter Marshall greets the audience and signs autographs on his two CD recordings. We talked to him briefly, since I first met him during the filming of Ensign Pulver. He is a proud grandfather and told me that two of his grandchildren were coming to the performance on Presidents Day. He is still charming and does not have a phony bone in his body.

Follies is celebrating its 13th year, and it has become a staple in Southern California. It has sold out audiences every night from November to May, and people from all over the Southwest come to the city just to see the opulent show. Riff is a hard taskmaster and each year over 300 over-55 professional dancers and singers come for auditions. Out of that, Riff will pick two to three performers. Most of his artists stay with him each year until they can no longer perform. Each gets an apartment, a stipend and a good living wage. The production runs around three hours with two intermissions. These "kids" are constantly performing and rehearsing their numbers.

Follies has announced that Little Peggy March will headline from March 3 through April 10 and Bill Hayes comes in from April 13 to May 30. Next season, the company has signed up The Four Aces, Sammy King and Kaye Ballard so far. For tickets please call 760-327-0225. The theater is located at 128 S Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, Ca. You can obtain more information on this amazing show now in its 13th year at www.psfollies.com.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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