The brainchild of emcee and former TV producer Riff Markowitz, 59, The Follies, staged in one of California's retirement meccas, is a genuine blast from the past. In its seventh season and having attracted more than a million patrons paying up to $65 a ticket, the show blends Ziegfeld-era production numbers with featured headliners like the Mills Brothers and impressionist John Byner—not to mention David Rosaire and His Perky Pekes. "They're old, but they give us all hope," says 83-year-old Roberta Howard, a retired school secretary from Sun City, Ariz., seeing The Follies for the third time with her 67-year-old daughter. "I admire them that they have kept themselves in that condition for so long."
Markowitz, whose career included producing such shows as The Hitchhiker and Tales from the Darkside, retired to Palm Springs in 1989 but couldn't bring himself to play golf "because I didn't like the clothes." When he was approached by city fathers to revive the 814-seat Depression-era Plaza Theatre, where Jack Benny sometimes broadcast his radio show, he leaped at the opportunity. And knowing how many retirees lived within busing distance, he knew just what he needed—performers from the old school. When he sent out a casting call for troupers who thought they'd done their last buck and wing, close to 400 men and women showed up to audition, among them singers and hoofers who once worked with the likes of Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Tommy Dorsey. "I needed the actual dancers and players from old vaudeville and follies to do this right," he says. "And it works. It's our second chance."
Dancer Dorothy Kloss, 74, who has shared stages with Liberace and Chico Marx, agrees. "It's really brought life back to me," she says. "I'm back doing what I do best—up there doing that old soft shoe."
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