The Frantic Follies is back for its 40th season.
The Yukon’s traditional slapstick comedy reclaimed its summer venue downtown Whitehorse at the Westmark Hotel, presenting a full, familiar and talented cast on opening night, May 21st.
Kicking off this season with a new set of legs, is local 16-year-old dancer Caleigh Farrow.
Tossed in amongst last year’s can-can dancers, experienced actors and professional musicians, Farrow had to struggle to obtain the same level of familiarity with the show.
With Farrow being the only newbie, the usual two-week rehearsal period was cut down to a single week.
Although intimidated, Farrow embraced the challenge knowing she had the necessary musical background from years of piano lessons, two semesters in the Music Arts and Drama program and 13 years of dance training under her belt.
In seven days, Farrow was expected to pick up all the choreography, become competent singing all the original Follies’ songs without the aid of written lyrics or sheet music, and learn how to play two new musical instruments: the banjo and the saw.
“Being the youngest, I felt like I really had to prove myself,” says Farrow with a shrug.
The other dancers showed her how to strum and play chords, then she practised the banjo every chance she got.
Luckily, Farrow is a quick study.
Balancing homework, school and seven-hour rehearsals every day, she succeeded in learning her part.
Unlike the other can-can girls, Farrow is not on summer holidays yet because she is still in high school. Ambitiously finishing all of her Grade 11 and Grade 12 courses in one year, Farrow will graduate a year early so she can head off to George Brown this September.
“I dance, I work and I do a lot of homework.” Farrow grins, seemingly happy with this lifestyle.
Because Farrow worked front of house for the Frantic Follies last summer, and one of the choreographers for the show, Dale Cooper, has been Farrow’s dance teacher for years, Farrow did not have to audition for a part in the show.
Her talent and broad range of dance styles, including, ballet, modern and jazz, were recognized and put to use. The Follies’ can-can dancing and varied dance choreography is fresh and exciting, “a style of its own,” says Farrow.
Hired part time, she does three shows a week. But she is also called in as a replacement for the other can-can dancers when needed.
With a rotating cast, Farrow’s role changes from show to show.
“There are only slight variations. Some nights I play banjo; some nights I play piano,” says Farrow.
The Follies’ performers also make up the backstage technical crew.
Before each show, they discuss who will be in charge of specific set changes, props and lighting. Some nights, between dance numbers and quick changes, Farrow is busy turning knobs and clicking switches.
She’s grateful for this high-paying dance job at such a young age, she says.
But her youth is also problematic.
There are certain can-can segments that Farrow is not allowed to participate in because of their sexual connotations. For instance, whenever a man is picked from the crowd to become that night’s, “Pookie,” Farrow is not one of can-can girls to sit on his lap.
“In the Iceworm (scene), I can’t do the joke where the guy in the funny hat, Major Brown, looks at the girl’s boobs.”
Some people consider can-can dancing, “very taboo,” says Farrow.
Last week, an entire audience became uncomfortably quiet when Farrow and the other dancing girls came onto the stage to do their high-kick can-can sequence.
“You could tell they didn’t respect what we did.”
Farrow’s parents are cool with it, and she’s thankful for that.
She’s also happy her outfits are not too scandalous.
“(The Frantic Follies) keeps it classy.”
Heidi Loos is a freelance writer who lives in Whitehorse.