Bari Miller is a stage director, choreographer and director. Kris Wheeler is a costume designer. Lynn Knudsen is a dancer and singer.
These and other seniors will take their talents to the stage in the upcoming Santa Cruz Follies, which will celebrate its 55th anniversary with shows this week at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, Wednesday through Saturday.
The Follies is an entertainment extravaganza of dancing, singing and vaudeville that draws busloads of ticket holders from Northern California and as far away as Los Angeles, not to mention plenty of Santa Cruz County fans.
Knudsen, who also volunteers as marketing and public relations director for the Follies, said about 3,000 people see the show each year.
I asked Knudsen what draws the audience to the “Broadway-caliber show” year after year.
“The music brings back memories too precious to forget,” she said. “They are inspired by the seniors who perform, because it’s fun, glamorous and upbeat.”
She said the audience always loves the “big tap numbers, our comedic interludes and the patriotic finale.” And you should see all of that and more with this year’s theme: Dancin’ Down Broadway.
The Follies Family
A hundred volunteers help get the Follies to the stage. Eight of the members are men—surrounded by 92 beautiful women—and 33 of the volunteers are cast members.
As for Knudsen’s part in the production, she said, “I consider myself redirected, not retired! I get to use skills I developed in business to promote the Follies and I love talking about my passion: entertaining.”
That passion began when Knudsen started tap dancing in her aunt’s garage at the age of 10. Years later, she followed the path of many performers and headed for New York City, where she landed roles in Gershwin’s Oh Kay and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. For 12 years, she worked with the likes of Nanette Fabray, Chita Rivera and Bob Fosse.
“Once the showbiz bug has bitten,” Knudsen said, “the excitement of musical theater has a way of luring you back to the stage.”
She’s been back at it for six years with the Santa Cruz Follies.
Kris Wheeler, who is in charge of dressing the performers in their gorgeous costumes, auditioned for the Follies in 1992 as soon as she turned 50, the youngest age eligible for joining. Involved in other musical venues around the county for many years, Wheeler has enjoyed performing with the Follies since that first audition. She eventually volunteered to take on the job of costuming the cast.
“Her talents at finding costumes at a reasonable price are truly out of the ordinary!” Knudsen said.
Director Bari Miller started performing with the Follies in 1998. Miller is one of those people who amazes me with her multitude of talents. She’s a dancer trained in ballet and tap, and she’s a photographer, providing most of the pictures used to promote the Follies. And besides directing this year’s show and previous Follies productions, she’s worked as stage manager and choreographer,
Working with the Follies
Though many members return to the Santa Cruz Follies each year (one man has been with the group for 24 years), they always recruit new singers, dancers and other volunteers.
If you have the “showbiz bug,” put on your dancing shoes or warm up your voice for auditions that are held at the Market Street Senior Center in October and February.
Be prepared for hard work—but also a lot of fun rehearsing, performing and meeting a great bunch of people.
Rehearsals for dancers start in November for the show the following September. In May, singers join the rehearsals, which are usually once or twice a week. Then, in June, July and August, the performers rehearse twice a week.
Quite a schedule! No wonder the Santa Cruz Follies is, as Knudsen says, a “Broadway-caliber show.”
I’ll see you there!
Here are a few upcoming events I thought you might be interested in:
Caregiving Classes at Cabrillo College
Cabrillo College in Aptos will offer a series of caregiver training classes on Saturdays, starting Sept. 17. Next week, I’ll discuss caregiving, including more details about these classes and other community resources for caregivers.
Elderday 30th Anniversary Celebration
Sara Clarenbach, director of in Watsonville, has sent word that the Elderday program will have a 30-year anniversary celebration on Sept. 22 from 5–6:30 p.m. at the Elderday site, 100 Pioneer St., Suite C, Santa Cruz. The event is free, and all are welcome. For more information on this event or on Elderday, contact Sheri Anselmi, Elderday program manager, at 831-247-9794.
I’ll be looking at Elderday and its 30 years of serving the community in a future column.
Italian Dinner in Scotts Valley
There’s always something happening at the . On Friday at 4:30 p.m., the center will host an Italian dinner with entertainment and a free raffle. Cost: $10 members, $12 non-members. Call 831-438-8666 for more information.
Have a fantastic week!