Dancers Find A Second Act At Palm Springs Follies The Palm Springs Follies is an old-fashioned musical revue with a difference: the performers are old enough to have been in shows like this in their heyday. After 23 seasons, the show closes in May.
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Dancers Find A Second Act At Palm Springs Follies

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Dancers Find A Second Act At Palm Springs Follies

Dancers Find A Second Act At Palm Springs Follies

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The Palm Springs Follies is an old-fashioned musical revue designed for an audience that remembers when this sort of entertainment wasn't old-fashioned. And the show is not only for older people, but by older people. The dancers range in age from 55 to 84, and include both men and women. The show is an institution in Palm Springs but this, its 23rd season, will be its last. NPR's Ina Jaffe took in the show.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the cast of the Follies' 23rd season. It's our last hurrah. Come on and dance to the music.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: The opening number of the Palm Springs Follies gives a whole new meaning to the term blue-haired old ladies. They're wearing skimpy, spangly bright-blue outfits, wigs to match.


JAFFE: When Sly Stone recorded this song in 1968, he probably never imagined that people would dance to the music in tap shoes.


JAFFE: All of the women and men on stage were professional dancers, and thanks to the Follies, they still are, says 75-year-old Suzanne Vitale.

SUZANNE VITALE: We never thought this was going to happen. Are you kidding? At this age, nobody wants us. You know, a dancer's life is when they're 20, and maybe 30. Who wants somebody over 50? I mean, really, who wants us?

JAFFE: Riff Markowitz, that's who. He produced TV variety shows for years until he moved to Palm Springs and retired, still in his early 50s.

RIFF MARKOWITZ: And that lasted about two years, until I found that the meaning of life clearly was something to do on Tuesday.

JAFFE: He got the idea for an old-fashioned musical revue when he saw a refurbished old theater in Palm Springs' struggling downtown. It reminded him of the places where he saw variety shows when he was a kid. Why not do that again, he thought?

MARKOWITZ: And then it just led from there to it should be Follies with people who are old enough to actually understand what they're doing, instead of young people acting as if they were old people, because we remember, because we were there.

JAFFE: So, as in the old days, the Follies not only has dance numbers, there's also a juggling act and a headliner. Currently, that's 72-year-old Darlene Love of "Twenty Feet from Stardom" fame.


JAFFE: The Follies does a lot to cater to its audience. Almost all the performances are matinees. There's a special squad of ushers to check walkers and scooters. Some fans come back year after year, like Bill and Jean Boyce, both in their late 80s. They say they enjoy seeing older performers. In fact, the older the better.

JEAN BOYCE: Well, you know, I think they've been older. I think they're getting younger.

BILL BOYCE: In the past, they've had those - several in their 70s and 80s.

JEAN BOYCE: There was one in the 80s. I don't know if she's still here. You know, like the mid-80s, the look of them right now.

BILL BOYCE: But it is a good show. It's just a shame that this is the last year, because this is a group of professionals, every one of them.

JAFFE: And one of their favorite performers is founder Riff Markowitz himself.

MARKOWITZ: My God. I just looked down at the front row. You people look awful.

JAFFE: But not Markowitz. He looks like an old-fashioned matinee idol with his white dinner jacket, mustache and brushed-back wavy hair. Oh, but he takes no prisoners during his long, rambling interaction with the audience.

MARKOWITZ: If you've been here before, put your hand up. Put your -have you - you have. Wait, sir. I recognize you. I recognize you, sir. God love you. You looked a lot better last time. I mean, you're not aging well at all. I just pray to God you make it through this show. That's all. I hate it when they die here, you know.

JAFFE: Markowitz, who's now 75 himself, says what else would he talk to this audience about?

MARKOWITZ: Rap music? You know, I'm talking about the things the audience feels and experience and fears. You know, the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we breathe, the way we cough - these are all things that we all live through at our age. And so, I mean, I just shy away from saying things like older when really what we all know is it's old.

JAFFE: Because it's the Follies last season, the remaining shows are nearly sold out. But that hasn't happened since the recession hit in 2008. Since then, fewer people have been able to afford tickets that can cost as much as $95. And the Follies survives on ticket sales. It's a for-profit corporation. Ultimately, the financial hole was just too deep to keep going.


JAFFE: But for now, the show must go on. And the Follies ends with is traditional patriotic medley.


MARKOWITZ: With great respect, the Follies asked these former members of the armed forces to come to attention, remain standing and take the salute: Jack Corry, lieutenant, United States Navy.

JAFFE: The house lights fade up, and all of the veterans in the audience rise from their seats - dozens of men and a few women, veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, America and the Follies salute you.

JAFFE: Maybe it's corny, but it's a real lump-in-the-throat kind of moment.


JAFFE: Like old soldiers, this Follies' tradition will fade away later this month. Meanwhile, the finale goes all-out with red, white and blue balloons, fireworks effects and a blinding amount of gold sequins. While the cast - and a few members of the audience - sing that song about old friends and times gone by.


JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News.


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