Some things in Palm Springs, people just take for granted. The sun will rise each day. The heat gets turned to full blast in the summer. And the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies will be back in the fall for another season of song, dance and laughs.
That’s why people were shocked last month when the Follies announced that it was closing and the 2013-2014 season would be its last. The Broadway-caliber musical revue celebrating the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s has been a fixture at the Plaza Theatre in Downtown Palm Springs since 1992.
“I’m not happy about it,” says show producer and cofounder Riff Markowitz. “I’m saddened by the demise of the show. It’s been my entire life for 23 years. It’s difficult to imagine life without it.”
Markowitz, who Follies-goers know as the show’s emcee, says the tough economy is to blame for the decision to close.
“There are just so many difficult economic conditions that are working in our disfavor,” reports Markowitz. “The most important one is that Follies was never a profitable venture. It wasn’t designed to be, and we never expected it to be. But it was never our intention for it to lose money. The difficulty with not making some money is that you have no cash reserves. We suffered enormously—as the whole country did—when 9-11 occurred. The tourist business just stopped. It’s taken a long time for it to start to come back. If something awkward were to happen again to our economy and the show was suddenly placed once again in the position of doing really badly, we would not have the cash reserves, the wherewithal, to support it through another downturn and still climb back up.”
Rather than make severe budget cutbacks, Markowitz and his producing partner, Mary Jardin, opted to close while it’s still a top-quality show.
“It’s like our tram,” says the 74-year-old Markowitz, who worked many years as a TV producer in Hollywood. “My partner and I made the decision that it’s better to get off at the top than it is to take the trip down and hope that it’s not going to get stuck halfway.”
Follies will go out with a bang with a final season, titled “The Last Hurrah!” featuring a greatest hits revue of all the best production numbers from 22 seasons of shows. Running November 1 to May 18, 2014, “The Last Hurrah!” will, as always, have celebrity performers joining the 20-member cast.
During November and December, singer/actress Susan Anton, best known for her county hit “Killing Time” and for TV’s Baywatch, is the headliner.
In January and February, singer Maureen McGovern, best known for “The Morning After,” the Oscar-winning theme song to 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, will headline.
Finally, from March through May, singer Darlene Love, best known for the early 1960s pop hits “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy that I Love,” closes out the season.
The origin of Follies was somewhat serendipitous. Markowitz had retired to Palm Springs only to discover retirement didn’t suit him. Meanwhile, the city of Palm Springs was trying to figure out what to do with the historic Plaza Theater building, which opened as a movie theater in 1936. Markowitz suggested putting on a revue with Broadway-style production numbers celebrating mid-century song and dance.
When he started casting the revue, rather than bring in 20-something performers, Markowitz opted to cast singers and dancers who had actually lived through the era in which they were going to portray. That tradition continues today, with the youngest cast member being 55, the oldest 84.
Follies has featured many name headliners over the years, including John Davidson, Rita Coolidge, Mary Wilson, Melba Moore, Lou Christie and Lorna Luft.
Markowitz says the show’s most embarrassing moment happened when actor/singer Howard Keel hit his mark too early and stepped into the open stage elevator shaft before the elevator platform returned to the top. Luckily Keel wasn’t hurt, but in the lobby afterwards, the audience kept asking if Keel did that every show.
Markowitz isn’t sure what he’ll do come summer 2014 when Follies has finally closed.
“At my age, about the only thing I’m qualified to do is be a security guard, a Wal-Mart greeter, a mall Santa or the Pope,” he quips. “The mall Santa Claus is a good idea, but the best wardrobe is the Pope.”
Ever one to crack jokes, don’t be surprised if Markowitz ends up doing a stand-up comedy routine instead.