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Follies go on cruise control


As a caricature of BeloJo publisher Howard Sutton says in the Phoenix’s full-page ad in the program for this year’s Providence Newspaper Guild Follies (the 32nd annual), "When I need to know what’s going on at the Journal, I read the Providence Phoenix every week." And the Follies has been the big buzz this past week over at Fountain Street (or "Repression Central" as more than one reporter referred to headquarters back in the big bad ’70s).

This annual rite of pre-spring took place, as always, at the Venus de Milo in Swansea, Massachusetts, on the final Friday in February. The Guild, the union representing more than 400 employees at the Other Paper, including most of the reporters and writers, presents an evening of skits, song parodies, and comic routines in front of one of the largest crowds of Biggest Little movers and shakers to assemble each year. Almost everyone you’ve seen on your television news over the last year is there, with the notable exceptions of those currently indisposed (i.e., Buddy Cianci, Joe Mollicone, and Jim Taricani, whose absence was made up for by how his image graced the cover of this year’s Follies program).

P&J, sadly, must inform one and all that we are now officially "old farts." This year’s Follies made this abundantly clear, as we waxed nostalgic for the old days. You see, in the early days of the Follies, the show was almost entirely written, produced, and performed by the actual Urinal scribes. It was rough, it was frequently amateurish, and it was really edgy. In the early days, Bob Stewart, Tony Lioce, Bob Kerr, the Mulligan Brothers, Kadzis (yeah, we’re not letting you off the hook, Peter), Irene Wielawski — they’d all go up there and lay it on the line, sometimes falling on their faces.

Looking back, it all seemed cooler and wilder back then. They certainly weren’t better-presented shows, but the material was more likely to draw blood. The last few Follies, including this year’s, have been extremely well produced and performed. The material has been unfailingly funny. But there are some obvious differences from the early days. The main one is the gradual introduction of professional or near-professional-level talent in the show.

Yes, Frank O’Donnell is a fine professional stand-up comic. Michael Evora (attorney and executive director of the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights by day) has a voice sent from heaven, and we thrill to it every year. There are at least a half-dozen other performers with real professional credentials or who could easily go pro at the drop of an Equity card. That’s why Charlie Hall started his troupe, as the professional alternative. The Guild Follies were the scrappy, profane punks, the Sex Pistols of dinner theater.

We feel better now. We’ve gotten it off our chest. We don’t mean to knock the current Follies, because they are really well done. But we are grouchy old farts now and we just had to say this.

Back at the real Follies, the aforementioned Michael Evora dipped into his calypso bag for a parody of "Jamaican Farewell" about the canceled John Edwards fundraiser, when the VP candidate would not cross a picket line of Providence firefighters. What a voice!

A lament by "Joe Mollicone" to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy came next followed by "Hotel Mesolella" ("Hotel California") with the inspired refrain, "Just give me a break/Or I’ll drain your lake." A good one, but it was soon followed by the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night, a song about the BeloJo’s recently implemented obituary policy (i.e., charging and jacking up the prices). It was sung to the tune of "Grenada" (unfortunately listed in the program as "Hello Muddah").

Outside of the swipe at the obit policy, nothing really grabbed you in this year’s show, with a few possible exceptions. For P&J, this would be Leith Johnson’s perfect bass line in a song about the hell of driving Rhode Island highways (to the tune of the Beatles’ "Two of Us"), wisely mixed way up front by the sound person. And the opening line to the song sung to (another old calypso number) "Matilda": "Battista, Battista, Battista/He take the money and screw the subscriber."

Better yet was the presentation of the annual John Kiffney Award (named after a beloved Journal reporter who passed away in 1987) to Richard Walton. At least three people, when they saw this in their programs, told us, "You mean Richard hasn’t already been recognized?" Walton’s credentials include his work as a peace and justice activist, host and prime mover of Stone Soup Coffeehouse, author, teacher, advocate for the homeless and powerless, and a conscience that hangs over many of us in the local progressive community like a big warm sun. Yeah, they gave him the Kiffney Award, and he sure as hell deserves it.

And the mystery guest this year? None other than Lieutenant Governor Charlie Fogarty, who came across as being at ease, self-deprecating, and funny. He spouted lines about being "Charlie Fogarty, living on the edge" and cited a chance that he’ll be looking into "forehead-reduction surgery." This was a winning performance from a good guy.

SHUFFLING THE ELECTORAL CARDS

Close readers of the BeloJo may have noticed a small item near the bottom of page A-2 on Monday that was picked up from the New York Times. It reported how 16 wealthy Hollywood actors, producers, and philanthropists, led by Dennis Hopper’s wife, Victoria, have signed a letter decrying US Representative Jim Langevin’s opposition to abortion rights and are supporting Matt Brown for the Senate seat held by Linc Chafee. The presumption is that Langevin, encouraged by polling data indicating that he would be the front-runner if he goes for the seat, will soon make his move.

Langevin’s insistence, however, that his stance on abortion rights is not a factor in a possible race against Chafee is absolute nonsense. Many women care about this as an outright litmus test for any candidate, and the boy be a fool if he don’t understand that. P&J remember interviewing Langevin on environmental issues when we were part of a public panel and he was running for Congress. One of the panel members brought up the subject of abortion, and in an absolutely jaw-dropping moment of personal exposure, stunning P&J and earning our eternal respect, said to Langevin that not only had she had a pair of kids who she loves dearly, she also had an abortion earlier in her life, and was comfortable with her decisions.

Langevin was speechless, and had no rebuttal, other than to restate his viewpoint. In that case, representative, your response was too weak to fly. Abortion is no one’s desire, but having someone like you — who is not a woman — to influence decisions for our female loves is unacceptable. As the old joke goes about the Pope in regard to abortion, "You no play-a the game, you no make-a the rules." Adding Matt Brown to the mix, we greatly distrust both candidates’ personal ambitions in terms of their qualifications for the job, and in Jimmy’s case, his use of the disability card. Sorry folks, someone had to say it. Piss on us if you wish for that view, but that’s the fact, Jack.

We suspect Langevin will run, since much of the shifting and jockeying by Democrats (Sheldon Whitehouse announcing that if Langevin wants to run, he definitely won’t, for example; Charlie Fogarty looking at Langevin’s seat), seems designed for just this eventuality.

Meanwhile, Brown’s strategy looks like it will involve harvesting most of his funding from out of state by energizing the party’s liberal base, especially reproductive rights organizations and activists. We would also suspect that, if one were to look closely at the protest outside the Rhode Island Convention Center on Monday night during a Langevin fundraiser, one might see Brown’s paw prints.

As all this "wait and see before making your move" thinking continues, it is interesting to note that, regardless of whether the well-known and well-financed Sheldon "Well-done Whitebread" Whitehouse (oh, the man is a walking nickname machine) opts to run for lieutenant governor, state Senator Elizabeth Roberts has already tossed her bonnet in the ring. We talked to Liz last week, and much as we both admire, respect, and genuinely like Sheldon, we really hope he doesn’t run for the No. 2 slot. Jorge, in particular, thinks Elizabeth Roberts is a perfect match for the job. Other than that, it would probably be a boost to the Biggest Little’s self-esteem to have a certified babe in a one of our general offices (not the case since the glory days of Susan Farmer in the secretary of state’s office). Go Liz.

PRAYERS FOR PABLO

Anyone who has not been living in a hole in Rhode Island for the past 20 years knows the name of Pablo Rodriguez. The inspirational icon for the state’s Hispanic community, the courageous head of Planned Parenthood, who has carried on his work through death threats, and the current chair of the Rhode Island Foundation, Pablo is a living legend in the Biggest Little. P&J have served no more fulfilling roles than to host a fundraising roast for Pablo a couple of years ago for the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Fund. His recent horrific accident in Dallas while returning from vacation in Belize, in which his niece was killed and his youngest son was critically injured, brings home how even the strongest, best, and brightest can suffer the worst of luck.

P&J go to press with Pablo still in Parkland Hospital in Dallas in serious condition. Our prayers and thoughts will be with him and his family until we see them walk out the front doors, which we are certain they will do. Mejores deseos a nuestro, amigo.

Send no more snow and Pulitzer-grade tips to p&j@phx.com.

The Phillipe & Jorge archives.
Issue Date: March 4 - 10, 2005
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