Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

THE SECOND-TO-LAST SUMMER – Some of the cast of the Frantic Follies is seen during the June 3, 2015 opening show.

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

DURING THE HEYDAYS – Shane Dewald, Grant Hartwick, Lyall Murdoch, Grant Simpson and Graeme Peters (left) to right entertain the house during a 2002 show.

‘The Follies will be missed by many of us’

The curtain has come down on a Yukon summer tradition that has spanned nearly 50 years.

By Stephanie Waddell on March 6, 2017

The curtain has come down on a Yukon summer tradition that has spanned nearly 50 years.

The Frantic Follies Vaudeville Show will not be put on stage as a full production this summer.

As company co-owner Grant Simpson explained in an interview this morning, the show has been operating on a “shoe-string budget” for the last four or five years – and he just wasn’t confident it could continue any longer.

“Tourism just isn’t supporting it any more,” Simpson said.

After the stage show celebrating the Yukon and its Gold Rush-era history lost the confirmed bookings it once had through Holland America tour packages, he said, revenue dropped approximately 60 per cent.

“That changed everything for us,” Simpson said.

Under that arrangement, the Follies delighted many thousands of mainly Americans tourists over many years. Each season would premiere with a special night for Yukoners to attend to see familiar, favourite acts, new faces and fresh material.

In a press release, he noted that after the show was dropped from the tours, the life of the production was extended thanks to the assistance of local businesses.

Those included the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel, where the show was performed for decades, and P.R. Services, among others that have worked with the Follies.

Efforts have been made to scale things back as much as possible.

Given the size of the production, however, a summer payroll of 30 is still required, and the show does not receive government subsidies.

To Simpson’s knowledge, it may be one of the only independent theatrical productions in North America.

“It’s a lot to manage,” he said.

Still, Simpson remains proud of the production he’s been a part of for more than 30 years.

As he described it, it’s a show that “saved” him from the pulp mills of Nanaimo, B.C.

That’s where he lived before arriving in the territory in 1980 at 20 years old, when he was hired by the Follies to showcase his musical talents for similar shows at Diamond Tooth Gerties in Dawson City.

The following summer, Simpson was asked to be part of the Follies’ Whitehorse show and he never looked back, eventually buying in as a partner.

It’s given him a life in vaudeville, he said, and “it’s been great.”

As he pointed out though, the Follies were already a staple of Yukon tourism long before he joined the cast.

It got its start as an amateur production in 1968 before the first professional season in 1970, when it was performed in an school gym, it’s noted on the Follies’ website.

The production moved part way through the first professional season to the former Whitehorse Inn, and then in 1973 to the Bonanza Room at the Whitehorse Travelodge (now the Westmark).

The show proved popular and in 1975, there were two performances each night.

Cross-Canada tours followed in the mid-1970s. A four-month stint in Florida followed in the early 1980s with a 10-city North American tour over two weeks in 1990.

For Simpson and many others who have graced the Follies’ stage, the show represented the start of a career on stage; a chance to flex their creative muscles. Such well-known Yukon performers as Debbie Winston, Dale Cooper, Grant Hartwick, Graeme Peters and Shane Dewald have been involved with the show over the decades.

When Simpson started, he joined a crew of veterans who had been part of the Follies for some time.

“I learned from all these veterans,” he said.

As the years passed for Simpson, there was an incredible amount of freedom in writing full-scale musical numbers, theatrical pieces and so much more for the Follies’ stage.

“It was totally awesome all along,” he said, as he acknowledged there have been some “serious, theatrical people” over the years who have criticized the Follies.

Simpson commented that the Follies are “goofy, humour” for the Gold Rush era; that’s what it’s always been.

Year after year, cast members have worked to create an entertaining show anyone could take their grandma, grandpa and five-year-old to and have everyone enjoy it.

Without his career in Yukon vaudeville, he said, he would not have produced the music and stage productions he’s done outside of the Follies’ stage.

Both his own and co-founder Lyall Murdoch’s kids have followed in their fathers’ footsteps and have been part of the Follies’ cast in recent years. Simpson said that’s been another amazing part of the experience.

As news has spread of the end to the more large-scale Follies performances, Simpson said he’s been receiving emails and messages from many former cast members who got their start as part of the Follies.

There are so many memories, he said as he recalled the fire marshal putting an end to the performance by a fire eater.

He also remembers a scare at Diamond Tooth Gerties after someone came in with a fake rifle that appeared to be real – which left him alone on stage playing Tea For Two after the can can dancers scattered off the stage, and of course watching his own kids take to the stage.

In the statement, Simpson publicly thanked the many Yukoners “who came to the shows time and time again. Laughing at the same jokes. Stealing punch lines. Bringing relatives. Telling other people, ‘go and see the Follies!’ Thank you all very much.

“The Follies will be missed by many of us.  People near and far talk to me about seeing the show over the past 48 years. It has been a Yukon tourism beacon for a long time.  For many young people, it was their first professional job.   

“The current cast is naturally disappointed as we were all hoping for another season; however, tourist numbers make the risk too great, and we have made the responsible decision at the right time.”

Simpson is hoping the show can continue as a smaller-scale venture that could be booked for special events.

As he pointed as well, when discussing the curtain falling on the Follies, co-founder Lyall Murdoch commented: “47 years .... that’s a pretty good run.”

Comments (10)

Up 19 Down 4

Fed up Yukoner on Mar 8, 2017 at 9:21 am

Just what kind of "new and exciting" attractions are out there, listening to musicians in a park (fairly tax payer subsidized by the way), some art on a wall, nothing much new to do. If we don't celebrate our Gold Rush history we will lose visitors, who really do know where and what the Klondike is about and they want to see that history.
First nation history is all good and I take a chance of incurring some wrath but its not enough to keep visitors entertained and informed. This is what happens when we let a big corporation take over our history, totally agree with the comments on Holland America, my prediction they will be gone totally from the Yukon in a few years except for some buses. It has been really sad to see them destroy and take over smaller businesses and then pull out and leave it up to locals to try and fill a niche. I don't believe for one second that Holland America hasn't gotten lots of subsidies over the years.
We spend a fortune on the same folks going overseas to the same places promoting the Yukon and what is there to do once they get here? Our outdoor life is ok but nothing special. How about our new government step up and actually fund something that visitors enjoy and have provided years of quality entertainment.
My condolences to the Frantic Follies present and former cast members who have gone above and beyond in their great shows. This could be YTG and City of Whitehorse contribution to Canada's 150th celebration instead of a bunch of forgettable parties but that would actually be supporting a local business and that is not the Yukon way these days.

Up 7 Down 6

jc on Mar 7, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Guess my comment wasn't politically correct enough. Freedom of Speech - O were art thou! Might have to consider moving to Saudi Arabia soon.

Up 16 Down 21

Scott Holmes on Mar 7, 2017 at 2:52 pm

I have been to the Follies and as a one-time show it was great. Problem is that people do not want to see these attractions anymore. They had their day, now you have to attract people in a new and exciting way. BTW...it is not up to the City or YG to prop up every dying business endeavour.

Up 27 Down 7

Debbie Welch on Mar 7, 2017 at 11:55 am

Could we not do some fundraising to get you through one more summer? I would love to help in any way. More so with it being Canada's big year. Why is the City of Whitehorse not stepping up and helping or the Yukon Government? The Follies is a huge part of Whitehorse. What a shame, makes me very sad.

Up 24 Down 0

Susan Fennell on Mar 7, 2017 at 3:00 am

My husband and I saw the Frantic Follies about 25 years ago and we Loved it! We are going to the Yukon this year for vacation. Planning lots of fun things to see, which included the Frantic Follies. The experiance will not be the same without the show.
For a night of AWESOME ❤❤❤ entertainment the price of tickets could have been be doubled. We would go again in a heartbeat. I was even going to buy the tickets on line in advance if I found them.
Disappointed fan,
Susan

Up 26 Down 3

Scott Lyle on Mar 6, 2017 at 7:40 pm

Having been involved in the Follies family from the time I arrived in Whitehorse in 1969 and a performer for 2 cross Canada tours, two military entertainment tours across the Arctic and to Alert on Ellesmere Island and three full summer seasons I can attest to the incredible joy this show spread among cast and audience members alike. It was a life changing experience and a great way to spend my twenties A true family show done by an amazing family of performers. The friends from those days are my oldest and best friends still. So grateful to Jim and Lyall Murdoch and Debbie Winston for the getting the show on the road. So sad to see it go but as they say, "That's the W she GP!" (That's the way she goes, partner.)

Up 23 Down 4

Gary Holland on Mar 6, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Very, very disappointed to read.... The Frantic Follies Vaudeville Show has closed.
We have been saving for many years to tour the Yukon, which we are about to do this May 2017.
Even as far away as Australia, down under, we have heard about this great show.
Now for Holland America Lines...... thanks for withdrawing your contribution to a great local show, which will obviously add more young & older people to the local unemployment list, plus worse still, will not give a young person the experience on the local stage.
As Holland American Lines chooses to employ many foreign people over USA & Canada locals, we will now boycott you..... both in Australia and in America & Canada..... thanks for nothing.

Up 4 Down 33

Joseph on Mar 6, 2017 at 5:42 pm

I'm not surprised. There is no more interest in the gold rush days. I'd be surprised if anybody knew anything about the history of the Yukon and even more surprised if they cared. The Spirit of the Klondike is dead folks. Nothing more to see here.

Up 25 Down 1

ProScience Greenie on Mar 6, 2017 at 5:13 pm

"...and the show does not receive government subsidies." - truly a rarity in the business and arts sectors of the Yukon.

The Follies will be greatly missed. Thanks to all for doing so much for so many years.

Up 35 Down 2

Thomas Brewer on Mar 6, 2017 at 4:25 pm

This is a significant loss to the already thin tourism entertainment options in Whitehorse.
Took visiting family and friends to this show many times over the years, always a great time and I'll miss it next time someone comes back into town.

I guess I'll take them to the 98 for some cultural exposure.

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