When Chloe Palmer, 12, of Cedar Rapids, saw her friends performing in the Follies, she wanted part of that action, too.

Cole Hurley, 13, of Cedar Rapids, said his parents “strong-armed” him into attending when his older brother was in the show — and now Cole is in the midst of his third Follies experience.

A past performer and producer encouraged Jennifer Boettger to audition in 1999. After appearing onstage in seven Follies, she’s in her third year of producing the annual variety showcase of local talent.

With 81 people ages 9 to 67 onstage and “a fleet” of volunteers working behind the scenes, Boettger said “it takes a village” to pull off the show year after year.

The 36th version of the $100,000 song, dance and comedy extravaganza will light up the Paramount Theatre on Saturday (4/8) and Sunday (4/9) with “Showstoppers: Broadway Bursting with Song.”

“It’s amazing how everybody just rolls up their sleeves and just gets it done,” Boettger, 48, of Cedar Rapids, said.

Shortly after the final curtain drops on one show, the production team starts brainstorming themes for the next one.

“We create a completely original show every year,” she said. “It takes time, because these are all people who are just doing it for the love of doing it. No individual or artist is getting rich off of doing Follies. They’re doing it because they love it. ...

“They all have full-time jobs, they’re all busy people, so you have to allow plenty of time to develop these concepts and ideas. What we shoot for is that by end of the summer, we have a show. We have an idea, a concept, a brand, a theme, an idea of the songs we want to do, so that by the end of the summer, I can start promoting the show to our groups who need to book it far in advance. ...“It takes so many people and resources in order to pull this off. It’s truly a labor of love,” she said. "This is the part of the process where I sit back and my head just sort of explodes, because I just can’t believe that it comes together. And it comes together through hard work and the sheer determination of the people who love Follies.

“So whether they’re the performers who are actually onstage or the production and creative people behind the scenes, or the Follies alumni who are pitching in their volunteer time or money to help support the show — everybody’s determined to keep this local gem going.”

One of those people behind the scenes who adds sparkle under the stage lights is costume designer Kathryn Huang, 44, of Cedar Rapids, a seamstress who owns Odd Blonde Duck sewing studio.

Costuming a show of this magnitude is “very daunting, for sure,” she said. “I think that it has to be handled in small amounts, and you do have to pull in every favor imaginable to have people come in and help you. ... I just love being able to get my hands on this much volume. It’s overwhelming but exciting all at the same time.”

She’s had more than a dozen volunteers helping to create the dazzle that Follies audiences have come to expect, and has been fully immersed in the task since the second week of February.

Her most challenging task has been creating showgirl chicken costumes for “A Bushel and a Peck” from “Guys and Dolls.”

“It had to be that ‘outside the box’ thinking,” she said. “Feathers, tulle, glitter jackets. It’s a pretty big thing.”

She and her crew make some costumes from scratch. But even the ones that don’t begin with pattern pieces require just as much creativity, like creating a Good Witch costume from parts of two bridal gown skirts. One became the skirt, and the other skirt, with lots of embroidery and bling, was turned into a bodice and peplum. And it all had to be dyed blue, but in parts.  

“It was too monstrous to do it all at once,” Huang said, “so we divided the top part and let it boil for about 45 minutes and then the bottom had to go in its own pot.”

The best part is seeing it on the actress, Jessica Warford.

“She seems to be really happy wearing it,” Huang said. “What better reward is there?”

Warford, 33, of North Liberty, is stepping into her first Follies foray. She moved to the area two years ago, and after being in “Sister Act” at Theatre Cedar Rapids last fall, she followed a couple of her fellow sisters over to Follies auditions in early January. She’s glad she did.

“Oh, I love it all,” she said. “The rehearsals, meeting all these wonderful, incredible, talented people. It’s been a great time.”

The hardest part? “Making sure you have the choreography learned — and those words,” she said with a laugh.

Combining lyrics and choreography remain a challenge for the longtime performers, too, said Steve Rezabek, 58, of Cedar Rapids.

A 23-year veteran of the show, he said “the opportunity to perform on the Paramount stage and the Follies reputation” are what lured him into the fold, but the camaraderie has kept him coming back.

He’ll be opening the show with “Lullaby of Broadway,” paving the way for the showstoppers to come. Some are huge production numbers, others are smaller in scope but huge in impact.

“When you think of ‘showstopper,’ you think of big production numbers — with the lights and the glitter and the action and the big finale-type numbers that stop a show,” Boettger said. “However, what we’re conveying in this year’s show is that they don’t have to be those big numbers — that a show can have a big impact on you by making you feel. We’re doing several ballads or other types of numbers that can also be what we consider a showstopper because they either make you cry or they give you goose bumps or they’re haunting.

“A showstopper to us is something that makes a lifelong impact or potentially changes you in some way,” she said. “They all get you in the feels.”


WHAT: Follies 2017: Showstoppers: Broadway Bursting with Song
WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (4/8) and 2 p.m. Sunday (4/9)
TICKETS: $22 to $42, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/follies; $17 students with ID at Paramount Ticket Office
DETAILS: Crfollies.com