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A showcase of resident talent

Seventh annual Follies a big hit

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July 23rd, 2014
A lively dance routine to Hello Dolly was the crowd-pleasing opening act at Maris Grove’s annual Follies program this June.
A lively dance routine to Hello Dolly was the crow

From the razzmatazz Hello Dolly opening act until the program’s finale and curtain call, performers in Grove’s 2014 Follies presentation had audience members wrapped around their little fingers.

The seventh annual resident talent show at EricksonLiving’s retirement community in Delaware County, Pa., took place the first week in June.

The 16 acts offered something for every taste, and the three performances in Maris Grove’s 250-seat Cardinal Theater nearly sold out. 

Performers included classical and jazz pianists, singers, dancers, comedians, and even a cowboy poet.

Hello Dolly featured three ersatz banjo players in straw hats and bowties who careened across the stage while a bevy of beauties dressed in Gone With the Wind regalia swirled and sashayed to the music. 

Any audience member who didn’t already live at Maris Grove likely wanted to move in. It was clear that Maris Grove residents know how to have a good time. 

Intermixed with the fun came more serious performances. A melodious Chopin piano nocturne introduced a mood of dreamy solitude and was followed by a monologue of Irish humor. 

And then the Toe Tappers came on stage, and the house started jumpin’. 

It was almost impossible to sit still as the first lively notes of “Rock Around the Clock” began, and the tap dancing quartet jived non-stop through a two-and-a-half-minute routine. The troupe bowed to thunderous applause.

Then the lighting and the mood changed again to spotlight a well-loved recitation. Although everyone in attendance was familiar with the story, the audience collectively held its breath throughout a vibrant and stirring rendition of “Casey at the Bat.” 

‘Best stage crew in America’

The campus thespian group, Maris Grove Players, produced the Follies. Players president and resident playwright Marian Ellis emceed it.

Between acts, the stage belonged to what Marian calls “the best stage crew in America.” 

Dressed all in black, each of the nine-member crew was on task to complete specific jobs. Some silently crossed the stage to move the piano, to position a chair, or to remove or replace a prop. 

Unseen offstage, other members signaled the next performer and outfitted him or her with a microphone.

Rena Miller manages the stage crew. A Maris Grove pioneer, she moved in when the community first opened. She’s been with Players since its early days, as well.

“I love the atmosphere and ambience and the greasepaint of the theater,” she says. 

And being involved is as convenient as a stroll down the hall because all residences are connected to the clubhouses by climate-controlled walkways. Rehearsals, performances, and cast parties take place right on campus.

Claiming she can’t sing, dance, or even memorize very well, Rena has always worked backstage. She might be the chief organizer and overseer, but she also jumps in to lend a hand as needed. 

“The crew works really hard,” she says. “There’s such a feeling of camaraderie, it’s almost like we’re a family. And it’s fun. It lets me be a part of something creative.”

A Players sneak preview

With Follies behind her, Marian Ellis is spending the summer writing the play the actors’ group will perform this November. 

She’s written, directed, and acted in amateur theater for 45 years, so she knows her craft. Even so, she brainstorms with Players’ creative committee for plot ideas. 

As usual, this play will be a musical comedy with lots of singing, dancing, and general mayhem.  

For this one, however, Marian will blaze new territory: the play will juxtapose live action with filmed sequences. 

“It will be a show about a production company making a movie,” she says. “At the finale, we’ll show the movie we supposedly made.” 

While Marian focuses on the plays’ creative aspects, plays and Follies producer Mimi Carey tends to the organizational details such as scheduling rehearsal dates and ensuring tickets get printed. She’s also the official prompter.    

Mimi had brief roles in last year’s Santa Retires! social media video widely seen on YouTube, but like many other Players members, she’d rather be offstage than in the limelight. 

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