The folly of tour cutbacks

The Frantic Follies is has lost its biggest fan, Holland America. "As of 2012, Holland America has cut us off," said co-founder Lyall Murdoch. "Right now, they are about 60 per cent of our revenue.

The Frantic Follies is has lost its biggest fan, Holland America.

“As of 2012, Holland America has cut us off,” said co-founder Lyall Murdoch. “Right now, they are about 60 per cent of our revenue.”

The Alaska-Yukon tour company has never funded the Whitehorse-based, vaudeville show, but it has been included in the company’s tour packages, guaranteeing the show a summer audience.

“No third-party companies will be included in Holland America anymore,” Murdoch said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to try and continue next year.”

Murdoch and his brother Jim started the Follies 42 years ago.

The show depicts entertainment the stampeders might have seen during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s.

“I think we’re the only full-time vaudeville show in North America,” said co-owner Grant Simpson. “I don’t know of any that have had this kind of run before. So, in terms of preserving that style of entertainment – you know, that was the learning ground for Bob Hope and Jack Benny and that whole era of great showbiz people. That’s why I was so excited about being involved with it, in 1980, was when I started.”

At least 15 people are employed each summer to dance, sing, act or play an instrument on stage, with at least 10 more working behind the stage and in the office, said Simpson.

“We’re a big part of the summer community here and we’ve put a lot of kids through college,” said Simpson, noting that most of the staff is youth, working full-time for the first time.

“In that real, practical sense we create employment here, and it’s all outside money, so it’s good for the economy that way.”

But being cut off by the tour company doesn’t mean the end of the Follies, said Murdoch, noting the company has never taken a penny of government money.

“When we started out, 42 years ago, we didn’t have much money and we went along for, like, 10 years with very little money, but we kept going,” he said. “So now we’re going to try and just do it again.”

Both men mention that when Holland America came in, it elbowed out a lot of other businesses.

Smaller contracts have continued with other companies over the years, and the hope is that if a hole is left, it will eventually be filled, said Simpson.

But Murdoch won’t criticize the multinational for its decision.

“It appears that they want to be just a cruise ship company and not a tour company,” he said. “It’s a business decision on their part. And I’m not saying that they’re wrong. They’ve decided that this is how their business has to go. Now we have to decide how our business is going to go.

“We’re going to do whatever we have to do to stay alive and I think nobody can criticize them for doing what they have to do to stay alive.”

And it is the local support; the people who have been to opening night every year for the past 42 years that has kept the show going, said Simpson.

“There’s a lot of people who would really miss it,” he said. “As a theatre person it would be sad (if the Follies shut down) because there’s nothing like it anywhere else. It would be a shame. But our plan is to keep going, we just have to make sure it’s financially feasible to do that.”

Holland America could not be reached for comment before press time.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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