By Myra Chanin . . .
My treat for the Merry Month of March was watching the current New Florida Follies—a magic, music and mystery Radio City Music Hall-ish extravaganza starring a few actual former Rockettes and many impressive surprises along the way. For instance, two very talented, big-voiced vocalists, Carolyn Smylie and Don Stansfield, presented a gamut of songs from the 40s to some I ain’t never heard before and sang them all very well. Then there was Ian Michael, a mysterious magician who knows where and where not to stick his swords, who magically turned into a terrific juggler. All three held everybody’s attention whenever the high-kicking, forever-young gals whizzed backstage to change into other sparkling costumes and wigs.
The group was organized by Cathy Dooley, a dance teacher from Astoria, Long Island, whose students—well, some of them—went on to tap-dancing glory as New York Radio City Rockettes. In the year 2000 she moved to Florida and, unready to retire, opened a dance studio here and soon assembled a group of twelve dancers who, as The Florida Follies, presented one grand performance per annum.
By 2018 Cathy was ready to retire and become un-Follied, but her ladies gave short shrift to that idea. They held a meeting, elected a Board of Directors, incorporated, called themselves The New Florida Follies and hired Cheryl Steinthal as their Artistic Director and Choreographer. Cheryl had been an actual Radio City Rockette at age 19 and became a choreographer, but was aching to get back in costume and dance. She was even more intrigued with the idea of dancing to choreography she’d created . . . for herself. In her spare time, she teaches dancing at That’s Dancing, the name of her studio in Lake Worth
The present New Florida Follies troupe is made up of 36 ladies and three men. The men sometimes act as background, but dressed in costume. They’re a very impressive lot. How old are they? Everyone is between the ages of 59 and 94. The new Florida Follies holds auditions every year in May. Anyone with dancing experience is extremely welcome. Because The Follettes rehearse twice weekly on Tuesday and Friday, the newcomers will hold their own and are usually included in the following January performances.
Which one is 94? The female in the photo who has just sunk down into a total split. Even better, she rises from it unaided. Her name is Cindy Trinder, and the elasticity of her thighs should be iconic. She’s an Oklahoma native and a former acrobatic dancer and contortionist who gigged in Las Vegas, Hawaii and Miami.
Directly behind her is the 89-years-young Jo Schlags, who’d been a dancer/showgirl at New York’s celebrated Latin Quarter. That club was opened in 1942 by Lou Walters, the father of broadcaster Barbara, and featured big-name acts like Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Mae West and Milton Berle—along with a nightly can-can by the showgirls which concluded every show. The Latin Quarter closed in 1968, but 55 years later Jo is almost a nonagenarian but she’s still dancing away in South Florida. How about that for tap as a recommendation for longevity?
The New Florida Follies opens with the Ensemble, as always in gorgeous costumes, tapping to “Magic to Do,” from Pippin, followed by magician Ian Michael doing his thing to an assistant’s head with swords. Next, the Follies Jazz and Tap Dancers danced to “Dancin’” from Xanadu, before “Steppin’ Out with my Baby,” escorted by Henry Temchin, and “Easin’ on Down the Road.” Once the ladies make sure the men understand that “A Secretary is Not a Toy!” with appropriate typing sound effects, Carolyn Smylie and Don Stansfield in glittering sequins give the dancers breathing time, as they entertain us with a medley of “Together, Wherever We Go” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.“ That gives you an idea of what to expect during the following act and a half of the show. Let me add, they also show off their great dancing, great costumes and great legs.
The choreography and the costumes are amazing. The dancers arrive on stage 12-18 at a time. This year there were three different groups in some of the dances, in different costumes and wigs, with one group tapping off as a new group tapped on. According to Cheryl, what they do is, “Dance, go off, change our clothes and wigs, and come back and dance some more.” The costumes are stored away so carefully that when they’re unpacked for the subsequent season, every sequin looks like it was just sewn on.
Don’t miss one of the last two upcoming New Florida Follies performances on March 19 and 26 at 2 PM at the Countess de Hoernle Theater at the Spanish River Community High School, 5100 Jog Road in Boca Raton. This is a 750-seat auditorium and a previous show was completely sold out, so don’t shilly-shally. Tickets are $35 and are available by calling 305-596-7394, or through www.newfloridafollies.yapsody.com
For more info, and for any prospective dancers who are interested in auditioning, contact the group directly through their website, www.thenewfloridafollies.com. The New Florida Follies is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and proceeds go to local children’s charities. If you’re in need of good deeds, buying a ticket may be your ticket to heaven.
Photos: The New Florida Follies