The “Follies” of Theatre

showgirls

Put on your dancing shoes –
Stop wasting time!
Put on your dancing shoes –
Watch your spirits climb.

  • “Shall We Dance,” Crazy For You

Crazy For You opened July 27th at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, and this lively, light-hearted musical has everyone tapping their feet!

One of the most memorable parts about the musical are the “Zangler Follies,” which spotlight the talents of Tess and her group of showgirls. In fact, some of our favorite scenes feature the Folly Girls, who take the little town of Deadrock, Nevada (and all the single cowboys) by storm.

The inspiration for Zangler’s group of showgirls begins with a little trip back to the turn of the 20th century, when Ziegfeld’s Follies set a high standard for the performing arts world. Here’s a little comparison between the real Follies and those in Crazy for You:

The Man: Bela Zangler, in all his flamboyant Hungarian glory, bears little outward resemblance to the American born Florenz Ziegfeld. However, their positions as the “patriarchal heads” of their shows are very similar. Ziegfeld had a stringent list of rules for his Folly girls, and expected the best from them, declaring “A Ziegfeld production is no place for a drone or an idler.” We can imagine Bela Zangler making similar statements (just with more arm flourishes). There is also a definite sense of the dramatic in both men, Ziegfeld’s business cards bore the modest title of “Impresario Extraordinaire.”

Another similarity the two men share is a propensity for falling in love with their leading ladies. Ziegfeld’s first wife (actually, they just stated they were married, and common law took care of the rest), Anna Held, was the star of his first lavish productions. In fact, she was the major inspiration for his starting the Follies. Likewise, Bela Zangler just can’t resist the charms of his feisty dance director, Tess.

The two men built successful empires, and their names alone were reason enough for people to travel from miles away to see their spectacular shows (in Zangler’s case, even to Deadrock, NV!).

The Outfits:

Feathers, sequins, and bows played a big part in the dress of the average Ziegfeld girl, as it does in Crazy For You‘s ensemble. Many of Ziegfeld’s girls were showered in jewels from admirers after their performances. Borrowing from the lyrics of Crazy for You, “who could ask for anything more?” In later interviews with former Folly Girls, they remembered their popularity fondly, with one reminiscing that “girls in no other show got the attention.” Ziegfeld spared no expense when it came to outfitting his show girls, always choosing the most costly silks and ribbons. This is also exampled with Zangler’s girls, as they feature everything from gigantic feather headdresses to sparkling flapper outfits, getting plenty of attention themselves.

Ziegfeld Model - Non-Risque - Dancers by Alfred Cheney Johnston

Finally, The Dancing:

Ziegfeld auditioned about 15,000 women a year for his productions, selecting only 3,000 total (over a span of about twenty-five years). He only had a few simple requirements, stating “Beauty, of course, is the most important requirement and the paramount asset of the applicant. When I say that, I mean beauty of face, form, charm and manner, personal magnetism, individuality, grace and poise.” Seems easy enough, right?

 

It’s understandable that only a select few women fit those standards, but once they became a “Ziegfeld Girl,” they were practically guaranteed success in the performing world. However, it’s not as if life became easy after being chosen to join the Follies (remember the “no drones or idlers” comment?). Extensive rehearsals and an overwhelming amount of work were key to the success of Ziegfeld’s productions. The man himself mused about “how little the public realizes what a girl must go through before she finally appears before the spotlight that is thrown upon the stage.”

Although we don’t know if Ziegfeld’s girls ever saved a dying theatre or taught a bunch of stumbling cowboys how to dance, we’re pretty sure they could handle the challenge. Crazy for You gives a little glimpse back into the glittering, larger than life productions that were the Ziegfeld Follies, while adding a heartwarming touch all its own.

All FLMTF Crazy For You photos credited to Ron Heerkens Jr. Photography

sources for this blog include:

http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-24-525-770-810-view-1920s-4-profile-ziegfeld-follies-girls.html
http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/18/nyregion/former-ziegfeld-follies-girl-recalls-the-glory-days.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.musicals101.com/ziegspeaks.htm
http://all-that-is-interesting.com/ziegfeld-follies