Will Rogers Follies is a musical about the famed humorist, Will Rogers. The musical first opened on May 1, 1991 at the Palace Theatre. It was directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune. The music was by Cy Coleman, the book was by Peter Stone, and the lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Will Rogers Follies ran for over 900 performances and went on to win the Tony awards for Best Musical, Score, Costume and Lighting Designer, Director of a Musical, and Choreographer.
The musical starred Keith Carradine as Rogers; Dee Hoty as Betty Blake, his wife; Dick Latessa as Clement V. Rogers, Will's father; and the voice of Gregory Peck as Florenz Ziegfeld. The show was a wonderful depiction of Rogers's life taking license where necessary and featured show-stopping choreography with Ziegfeld girls and an almost-nude dance by now-choreographer Jerry Mitchell and fabulous entrances with Carradine being lowered on the stage by rope.
Memorable songs of the musical include "Will-a-mania", "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like" (employing Rogers's famous motto), and the torch song "11 o'clock number" "No Man Left For Me", Betty Blake's lament of having to compete with Will's public schedule.
This musical was based on the life of Will Rogers, popular humorist and performer who died in a plane crash in 1935. His life is viewed through the (opulent) lens of the Ziegfeld Follies, which he often headlined in his heyday, and is somewhat nonlinear and very unconventional in structure, since every episode in his life is a big production number. Will often speaks directly to the audience and to Mr. Ziegfeld, who isn't always happy with the way the show progresses. For example, after detailing his childhood, he mentions how he left home to see the world. Mr. Ziegfeld interrupts him and tells him he has to "meet the girl," and Rogers more or less says, "Oh, yeah, I did meet Betty Blake at about this time." We then are introduced to Betty Blake ourselves--she's sitting on the moon, mooning. Because Betty is impatient to marry Will, the show skips forward several years, at which point Will is playing in a two-bit wild west show. They're about to be married--but Mr. Ziegfeld intervenes again: the wedding can't take place yet because the wedding should end the first act, and the first act hasn't ended yet, so... time rapidly goes by, during which Will grows more successful and they have four kids as they travel around the country. Then Will is invited to join the Ziegfeld Follies, and time warps again into the 1910's, where he's become a big vaudeville and radio star and is about to embark on a journey to Hollywood. But the first act is ending, so now the wedding takes place.
Act 2 shows Rogers at the peak of his popularity--so popular that he's actually asked to run for President. Meanwhile, Betty is feeling neglected and sings the blues, but Will returns with "a treasury of precious jewels" (and a parallel production number). The mood is spoiled by bill collectors and creditors; Ziegfeld is broke, and the Depression is upon them. At Herbert Hoover's request, Rogers delivers a speech to the nation. Later, he reconciles with his estranged father. And, finally, he goes on that fateful plane ride with Wiley Post (who has been popping into the show every so often with the cheerful refrain, "Let's go flyin'!"