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The Follies: A needed respite

As the crowd flowed into the Venus de Milo function hall in Swansea, Massachusetts, last Friday evening, February 28, there was a sense of tentativeness in the air. After a week of shock, anguish, and mourning over the Station nightclub tragedy in West Warwick, the same thought entered the minds of the 1200 Rhode Islanders attending the Providence Newspaper Guild's 30th annual Follies: could we make the transition? It had dominated our news, our thoughts, and our prayers for a week. Would the evening prove cathartic, helping us through our collective grief, or was it too much, too soon?

The Follies, which take place on the last Friday of February, is a collection of skits, song parodies, and comic routines that poke fun at the previous year's news. It's presented by the Providence Newspaper Guild, the union representing more than 400 employees of the Providence Journal, and has always been one of the social highlights of the year for our state's political, media and business elite.

This year, Jorge went alone since Phillipe was winging his way to Florida because -- talk about "forever Young" (no pun intended) -- his mom was getting married. Running into one of the show's producers, BeloJo TV/radio scribe Andy Smith, in the hallway during the massive pre-show cocktail party, Andy talked about how the Follies Committee wrestled with the question of whether to proceed with the show. "If this had been a week ago, there's no doubt it would have been canceled," he said, referring to the day after the fire. But the decision was made to go on with the show, largely as a release from the unrelieved gloom of the preceding eight days.

The program began (late, as usual) with words and prayers from the Reverend Rebecca Spencer of Central Congregational Church in Providence about the departed, the injured, and the suffering. After that the Guild presented its annual John Kiffney Award, named for a beloved Journal reporter (who was known to hoist a few with your superior correspondents back in the Leo's
glory days), who passed away from cancer in 1987.

Kiff would definitely have been proud to know that this year's recipient was another ace journalist, Channel 12 investigative reporter Jack White, who started in print and garnered a Pulitzer for his 1973 story on how President Nixon cheated on his income taxes. (Much as we miss Kiff, we have to admit that we kinda miss Nixon, too, and his uncanny ability to provide us with some new perfidious twist.) It was recalled how White, as he was on the brink of nailing this once-in-a-lifetime story, the Guild went on strike against the Journal. Jack spent 13 days with the story in his pocket, desperately checking papers around the country each day to see if anyone had beaten him to the punch. Miraculously, no one did.

Jack White's courageous stand, risking the greatest scoop of his life to stand in solidarity with his union brothers and sisters, makes him richly deserving of this honor. And, by the way, it was Kiffney who did the close editing on Jack's piece.

But enough about heroics. You want to know about the sordid show. Indeed, the cat claws were out. This year's Follies ranked way up there with the nastiest, bitchiest, most scathing shows in this tradition's 30-year history. It was great. A special pat on the back to Paul Brown and Ray Smith, the evening's sound engineers from Sound Principles Limited. The sound can sometimes be a little spotty at the Follies, but everything came across crystal clear this year.

No surprise that the first number was dedicated to the Bud-I, "Goodbye, Buddy" to the tune of "Hello Dolly." For your enjoyment, here's the last verse: "Goodbye, Buddy, well, Goodbye Buddy/ You're going to stay in jail where you belong/You won't be freed, Buddy/By Jack Reed, Buddy/Better listen, don't be missin' while we sing this song/We hear the guard saying/That this guy's staying/In spite of WaterFire and the mall/So, day by day, Buddy/Forget about that toupee, Buddy/ Buddy's jacket had stains after all."

There were songs about Cranston's bankruptcy, slot machines, more Buddy bashing, and a slap at the brief Lombardi interregnum at Providence City Hall. It started to dawn on Jorge that not only was the nastiness quotient higher than usual, some of the numbers were laced with the occasional obscenity. Myrth York was portrayed singing, "I feel shitty, oh so shitty/I feel shitty, self-pity and shame/You don't like me, but I'm rich so I will run again."

As Follies targets go, John Harwood might as well be wearing a target painted on his suit coat. "Leader of the Pack," now "Speaker of the House," did not shy away from slapping the old Puck around. What was most amazing is how little the lyrics needed to be altered: "I met him at the Family Court/He turned around and smiled at me, you get the picture (yes, we see)/That's when I fell for the speaker of the House/He always loved it when I went down (down, down)/That's `cause I came from the wrong side of town."

More obvious targets followed: the Providence police (to the tune of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World"): "Don't know much about catching crooks/Don't know much about legal books/Don't know much about stopping crime/Always going to Cianci's time," Jack Reed, the Big Audit, Linc Chafee's liberalism and spending excesses at the State House, to the tune of that superior standard "It's Raining Men."

Speaking of superior, the Follies ends each year with a greatly anticipated "mystery guest," a newsmaker who is given an opportunity to do a brief bit as him or herself. This year it was Our Little Towne's new mayor, David Cicilline, and David played up his superior persuasion to the hilt. By the way, Davie, if we'd only thought to copyright the "houseboys" bit, we'd be suing your well-toned buttocks. But, we didn't and so, to quote Homer Simpson, "D'oh!" David once again demonstrated his perfect pitch. The act was very funny and very brief.

We left the Venus relieved that we could, in the face of all the recent sadness, laugh again. Thank you, Follies. On the other hand, we were also left in a mood of deep apprehension. If Carcieri and Cicilline keep going the reformist way they're going, they could throw a giant monkey wrench into next year's Follies and do some serious damage to the Cool, Cool World as well.

Forever Young

As noted in the above item, Phillipe flew off to the Sunshine State to walk his mother down the aisle at age 77 on March 1, where she married a man of good humor, elegant looks, great accomplishment, and, most importantly, serious liquidity. The weekend of fun and games was marked by the rental of a hot convertible by P and our favorite learned educator, Mr. Etchells, for their impersonation of Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice (which resulted in severe sunburn).

The six-strong police appearance came to our motel room at 1:30 a.m., only to find P&J's good buddy, the Pogie Princess, feigning innocence since everyone had conveniently gone to bed. A seagull got punched at the beach after it attacked Phillipe, a la Tippi Hedren in The Birds. And we spent Saturday night trying to turn off the car alarm after Phillipe and Mr. E set it off while practicing jumping into it, over the door, like Tom Berenger's TV star character in The Big Chill (with roughly the same anatomically abusive results).

Fortunately, these antics lessened the trauma of having the wedding in a church in a trailer park, learning that Phillipe's mother's friends commonly referred to her as "Butch" during her youth. This information, naturally, was relayed to us quite loudly and openly by Phillipe's godmother, a New Orleans belle who changed her name to Savannah last year at the suggestion of her hairdresser. (Needless to say, this explains a lot about Phillipe -- and Jorge's -- rather unique world view.)


Politically sensitive noses got totally out of joint at the British Worthington Cup soccer final between Liverpool and Manchester United -- the English equivalent of the New York Yankees -- at Cardiff, Wales' Millennium Stadium on March 2. The game was won in an upset by the Liverpudlians, 2-0. With the usual set of songs and cheers insulting their opponents, our growing global community reflected on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's perceived position in his own country as "George Bush's poodle." This for his drooling obedience to Dubya in regard to war. The fans hoisted a banner that read, "Don't Bomb Iraq -- Nuke Manchester." The offending banner was quickly hauled away by the Welsh stewards in the stands, doubtless trying not to have their prime minister embarrassed any further.

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Issue Date: March 7 - 13, 2003

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