INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Through ups and downs in its supporters’ lives and the economy, the cast and crew of the Incline Star Follies continue to pull back the curtains every year with intentions of bringing down the house.
For the 15th straight year, they plan to do it again.
The choreographed lip-sync spectacular featuring students in Incline’s fifth and eighth grades and high school, as well as adult community members opens, to audiences with two shows April 25 and three on April 26 at the Incline High School auditorium.
With the Cal Neva Resort & Casino closed for renovations, Follies organizers moved the show to Incline High, where funds raised by the annual show actually paid for the theater curtains from which the cast will appear.
Over its 15 years, Follies has raised nearly $1 million for Incline’s public schools, funding everything from new technology to performing arts and physical education, said organizers Kathie Goldberg and Ron Stichter.
THROUGH THE YEARS
Founded in 2000 by former Incline resident Debbe Deverill, the Star Follies concept was borrowed from a fundraising directed in the San Diego area by Don Hertel.
Hertel has directed every Incline performance since, making him the longest-serving member of the performance, followed closely by Goldberg, who first appeared in 2001 and took over in 2004 when Deverill retired.
Surviving that fifth year — the show was moved from its traditional stomping grounds at Cal Neva to the recently-opened Incline Elementary — was a monumental challenge to the performance but one organizers overcame, Goldberg said.
“Surviving that year was a huge task,” said Goldberg. “It was not the right venue, and some people suggested we skip it for a year, but we made it work.”
Without a raised stage, the crowd was even with the performers, making it difficult to see, Stichter recalls.
“It was like throwing Woodstock in Kansas,” he said.
The show persevered, though, as it did during the recession when sponsorship money dried up to far more meager numbers than during the early 2000s — and into this year and next year, as Cal Neva’s classic Frank Sinatra showroom is closed.
“The Cal Neva really feels like home for the Follies,” Goldberg said. “But we’re really grateful to be able to bring the show back to the high school (where it was first performed in 2000).”
The show’s ability to bring out the best in its school-aged cast members is the most rewarding part of the experience, both Stichter and Goldberg agree.
There are 41 students rehearsing for this year’s performance — hopefuls are drawn at random from each of the eligible grades.
“A lot of the kids who have appeared in Follies wouldn’t otherwise have this opportunity,” Goldberg says. “These aren’t always kids whose parents enroll them in dance or who participate in theater.”
Stichter credits choreographer Karen Osborne for the students’ enthusiasm for the show. After starting with more of a show tunes focus in its early years, Osborne came aboard with fun choreography from modern musical hits, giving the students something to relate to, Stichter said.
Instead of begging them to participate, students now hope for their name to be called in casting, he added.
All that fun can be cathartic, Stichter said. He first joined the cast along with his daughter after losing his wife Linda, and credits the show with helping him through a tough period.
This year, the cast will perform a short tribute to Joy “Big Joy” Michiel, a longtime cast member and Incline resident known for her raucous joking and showmanship.
Michiel died in November at age 60. She frequently performed alongside her husband and fellow cast member, Steve Caswell, who will appear in this year’s show.
“We lost an important cast member, and her absence is being felt by the whole cast,” said Goldberg. “But I know Steve is finding a lot of comfort in putting this on.”
“Each cast member has a reason they’re doing the show, and it’s hardly ever just about raising the money,” Stichter added
When audience members takes their seats for the 15th year, they’ll see friends and loved ones, cute kids and uproarious numbers, the culmination of months of rehearsals and a decade-and-a-half of great times. The show goes on.