Calverty City, KY – The reverberating sound of chatter rings through the Calvert City Elementary gym Tuesday as hundreds of residents squeeze into bleachers and metal chairs. Everyone in the room has turned to face a stage set with donated Christmas trees as they wait for the resurrection of goofiness and jest called the Calvert City Follies.
In the late 70s and early 80s, residents and community officials raised money for the St. Jude's Children's Hospital by donning ridiculous costumes, singing silly songs and making jokes at their own expense. This year, when the elementary school needed a new $50,000 playground, Lisa Sills, chair of the project's fundraising committee, decided it was high time the city returned to its tomfoolery.
"Ever since I've moved here I've heard about the old Follies and how much fun they were, and we just needed something that would keep the kids from having to do the selling and something that would involve the community."
Sills enlisted parent Leigh Ann Northcutt to direct the show. Using a Christmas theme and a cast of 70, Northcutt pulled together sketches from various plays and drama books, mixed her own verses into iconic Christmas songs and wound up with a Vaudeville satire set in a little town suspiciously similar to Calvert City. She says her version of the "Follies" has a stronger theatrical flair than the song-and-dance format of the original, but she says, in the end, they were both designed to entertain.
"I understand that the last follies were very funny, and that's what we did too, we just made people laugh."
Linda McKinney experienced the original productions firsthand. At the moment, she sports overalls, felt reindeer antlers and false eyelashes to play her part in the sketch, "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer." However, in 1980, she discoed onstage as the policeman in The Village People.
"We did one number, and it brought the house down, and then the next year, The Village People repeated, except we added a song. We did YMCA' plus You're in the Navy.' It was strenuous, but it was fun."
Reidland physician Terri Telle, who kicks off the 2008 show with her husband, says the charm of the original productions lied in their townsfolk casts.
"It was wonderful. I just remember watching the people that you knew in town, like the pharmacist and teachers, do really funny things. It made me see them in a whole knew light and was a lot of fun."
College freshman Lauren Barrett, who portrays a smitten Christmas caroler, says the same about the current version.
"Just people from the community getting together. It's like preachers and the mayor and the veterinarian, and it's not like professional actors or anything. It's really neat."
This year, as the quirky scenes of the new "Calvert City Follies" unfold, the amateur cast sings, recites and sneezes for at least 500 audience members. Once the actors have squeezed onstage for a curtain call and a chorus-only rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," Leigh Ann Northcutt pauses to reflect on its success.
"Because the people in the follies were enjoying themselves onstage, the people in the audience laughed, which fed the people onstage, which made the audience laugh, and it just turned out to be a good program. I was very pleased."
Neither Northcutt nor Lisa Sills say whether the Follies will return next year for certain. Yet, after contributing approximately 2,000 dollars to the Calvert City Elementary playground fund, a longer tradition of foolishness and folly might be needed.