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Seniors are fabulous in Follies

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — The 16th season of Southern California's Fabulous Palm Springs Follies is now well under way and simply shouldn't be missed.

With its three dazzlingly visual and delightfully effervescent song-and-dance filled acts, set off by stunning Ziegfeld Girls costumes and colorfully atmospheric backdrops, it would be an unforgettable production with any set of accomplished performers.

But what makes the Plaza Theatre's Palm Springs Follies undeniably "fabulous" is the fact that the entire cast is made up of senior citizens, ranging from their mid-50s to their mid-80s.

The talented men and women singing and dancing with all their might for nine shows a week — from the end of October to the end of May — are the very performers who, half a century ago, were playing in films, on Broadway and in Radio City Music Hall, backing up such entertainers as Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The amazingly agile, nimble and silver-throated cast is really all you could want in a rhythmic, toe-tapping, eye-catching spectacle of this type. But add such guest stars as Howard Keel, Donald O'Connor, the Mills Brothers, the Four Aces and any of the other many world-renowned showpeople who have headlined Follies productions over the past 16 years, and you've got an event that simply can't be beat — anywhere.

But it doesn't stop there. Add to this the droll humor and gentlemanly suaveness of master of ceremonies Riff Markowitz, plus the special acts that change from season to season — from a first-rate ventriloquist to two brothers in their 90s whose singing, banjo-playing and vaudeville routines charm audiences night after night — and you're in for an evening you'll be telling everyone about.

This season's guest stars are three ladies of song, all familiar from days gone by: Gogi Grant, famous for "The Wayward Wind" back in the '50s, who performed with this season's Follies through the end of December; Gloria Loring, known for "Friends and Lovers" 20 years ago, is featured now and will continue through March 18; and Mimi Hines, who replaced Barbra Streisand on Broadway in "Funny Girl" back in the '60s, will complete the rest of the season, March 21-May 20.

Still another highlight this season is the talented duo Tatiana and Victor Manjos, who met while performing with the Moscow Circus, and who have performed throughout Europe and the Americas. Masters of the feat of "magic transformation" or "quick-change artistry," their act consists of mind-boggling changes of costume in the blink of an eye. The audience gasps each night when, ending the performance, Victor Manjos throws a handful of silver confetti in the air, and when it comes glittering, flickering, down around Tatiana Manjos, she is suddenly no longer wearing the colorful evening gown she had on just a second or two before, but is now attired in a stunning silver gown.

There are so many highlights in the Follies, it's impossible to list them all — but it's hard to forget the rich contralto voice of 69-year-old Judy Bell singing "How Deep Is the Ocean," or Hank Brunjes and Dick France, 74 and 77 respectively, dancing in 1940s sailor suits with such flair and precision.

But maybe most indelible of all is the image of the wonderful, pretty and petite Dorothy Dale Closs, who has been dancing ever since she was 3, and who is still tap-dancing her heart out and wowing audiences night after night — at age 83.

What other show could fill your eyes and ears with such jaw-dropping entertainment at the same time that it fills your heart with so much joy, awe and wonder in the resilience and indomitability of the human spirit to rise above those things in life that threaten to hold us back or pull us down?

If you don't leave the Plaza Theatre feeling light as a feather and with a renewed sense that anything really is still possible, I would be very surprised.

I don't recall missing a single season since the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies first started 16 years ago — and I'm certainly planning on catching every season coming up over the next 16.

E-mail: marshalldj@iveracity.com