'An American Original' First Folio Production Celebrates Lifeof Will Rogers

Article excerpt

Byline: Scott C. Morgan smorgan@dailyherald.com

Younger generations don't know much about Will Rogers, the part-Cherokee cowboy celebrity from Oklahoma who rose to mega-fame in the early 20th century. And often people who think they know who Rogers is will mix him up with TV cowboy crooner Roy Rogers of "Happy Trails" fame.

So it's nice that actor and playwright Kevin McKillip is doing his part to keep Rogers' memory alive in the world premiere show "Will Rogers: An American Original" for First Folio Theatre. The famed Oklahoman (1879-1935) is considered so culturally significant that among all the statuary of statesmen and other historical Americans on display in the U.S. Capitol building, Rogers is the only entertainer.

In his day, Rogers was famed for his folksy wit in syndicated newspaper columns and for his great comic timing in vaudeville, on Broadway and in Hollywood movies. And don't forget Rogers' amazing lasso rope tricks he learned from herding cattle in far away places ranging from Argentina to New Zealand.

Alas, McKillip's show isn't as much fun nor as emotionally satisfying as "The Will Rogers Follies," the 1991 Tony Award-winning musical biography of Rogers' life retold in the style of a lavish Ziegfeld Follies (in which

Rogers was a star attraction in five editions on Broadway between 1917 and 1925). Instead, McKillip sticks entirely to rambling routines that Rogers himself delivered on his wildly successful tours where he mixed monologues with cowboy rope tricks (he called it "monopologuing" people's time).

As an actor, McKillip has an enormous range (he played Shakespeare's Richard III to much critical acclaim in a previous First Folio season). And McKillip's skills also encompass quite a few rope tricks he performs with ease.

Buy you can't shake the nagging feeling that you're getting a skilled actor dressed up in a cowboy outfit instead of a performer who truly embodies the historical figure he's portraying. …