It would be nice to say that it was a quieter, more innocent time, back when hundreds of Newcomerstown residents took two and a half weeks out of their winter to be part of a community variety show called The Sweetheart Follies.
But it wouldn’t be the truth.
It was not a quieter, more innocent time. It was chaotic, it was frenetic, it was exciting, it was often frustrating, it was magical. And the show itself, well, it was often risque with slightly off-color jokes, beautiful showgirls in sometimes skimpy costumes and behind the scene antics.
From 1983 to 1999, the Newcomerstown community came together to present "The Sweetheart Follies," and those who took part or attended will always remember those idealized days with fondness and a smile.
On paper, here’s what The Follies was all about. The Newcomerstown community decided there were all these clubs, all with different ideas about ways to improve the village. Out of that came the Newcomerstown 100 Club, which was to be a representative from each of the clubs, coming together to discuss what each group would like to see happen. Carol Boucha was president of the group when it was broached that the community put on a variety show. Voila! The 100 Club contracted with the Gerome H. Cargill Organization of New York, which provided a professional director and costumes. Then, in early February, the director would arrive with the costumes, area residents would sign up to be in The Follies and approximately 17 days later, there would be up to four performances, drawing thousands of area residents and raising money for local projects.
Thousands of dollars for local projects.
But, in the end, there were too few people willing to keep doing the enormous amount of work behind the scenes and The Follies closed with its last peformances in 1999. Because the real unsung heroes of The Follies were those people who took care of the costumes, built the sets, lighting, make-up, the orchestra, sound, people who provided food, and the list goes on.
Melba Guy, one of the earliest performers, remembers, "Making new friends...late hours and after practices going to Terry’s PIzza with committee members working out practice schedules and making decisions, being there until 3-4 a.m.
"I remember the very first Follies when Denny Bell and I got the lead roles. I had never done anything like that. It was overwhelming but also so much fun, learning script, songs, dances and seeing other people learning lines and dances, which they had never experienced either."
Laura Weinzimmer said The Follies was like "old Vaudeville--songs, dances, comedy skits--and there was a role for anyone who signed up. The director brought his own show, but he'd customize the script to fit: if someone could juggle--suddenly we'd have a juggling number! If a skit called for a sheriff or doctor or news reporter--and that's what you did in real life--chances were you'd find yourself cast in that skit. What was pretty amazing is that, if all you wanted to do was to perform in the Follies, your commitment--from the Director's Party when you signed up, to the final performance on closing night--was all of two and a half weeks!"
And those who took part have their own memories about those years.
Melba said, "Some of my fondest memories are when we didn’t have a person for a special part, especially when someone was sick on performance night, the committee, which most of the time was Carol Boucha, Debbie Haver, myself, Camille Smith, Bobbie Opphile and Neveda (Leggett) would say, "Oh Steve (Melba’s husband) will do it. He took a woman’s part several minutes before time to go on stage and turned many acts into a comedy!"
BJ McFadden, remembered often as half of the "Washer Women" skit with Camille Smith, recalled, "The year we had the huge turnout (second Follies, maybe), the chorus was rehearsing, and apparently we weren’t doing exactly what was being asked of us. The director, P.R. Swango, sort of shouted at us, ‘People! You must remember this!’ And without missing a beat we sang as in one voice, ‘A kiss is still a kiss.’"
Laura Weinzimmer said she thought it was something unique to Newcomerstown.
"Before moving to Newcomerstown, I'd lived in major cities like Detroit and Cleveland, and I'd never experienced anything like this. I remember singing ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ in an Andrews Sisters trio with Melba Guy and Connie Longsworth. We were supposed to wear WW II WAC uniforms, but Melba has a real talent for sewing, and she whipped us up these colorful, Carmen Miranda-inspired costumes, complete with fruit-adorned turbans! That number was one of my favorites."
Lois Merrill remembered being able to make new friends.
"We were new in the community and it helped me get to know people and do something for the community," she said. "We made great lifetime friends. Dancing and being in costumes made it fun. It was cool to go back through some of the pictures and see people like Anthony Lenzo and Sandy Robinson, people who are gone now. We should have appreciated it more back then. I loved it. It was hard work but so worth it. It was something to look forward to every year. I remember Tim (Dr. Tim Merrill, her husband) chasing Carol Boucha with a lawnmower and grass skirt. Camille and BJ were always funny, Anthony as swan in "Swan Lake," Sara Ashcraft."
?Kay Gossett Dennis? said, ‘I loved being in the follies, dancing and singing. Great memories. I remember one western dance I was in and the girls were lifted high in the air and twirled around by the men. That was sooooo cool!!!!!" and her daughter, Rebecca Klein said, "Man, I loved the Sweetheart Follies. I have so many memories as a child coming with my parents to the rehearsals!"
Marlene Ross, who had many solos in The Follies, remembered the skits.
"The first one is when Camille Smith and BJ McFadden were the scrub ladies," Marlene recalled. "That was one of the funniest skits of all the Follies, in my opinion. We all know that Camille and BJ are both fun and happy ladies in the first place but give them a skit like that and they were off to the races.
"The second one was when Denny Ross and Gary Grant were to sing the song, ‘Don't Fence Me In’. Well, Denny knew most of the words and the order they went in but Gary....well we'll just say, he didn't have a clue. Ha!! They would be singing and Gary would mess up which throw Denny off and they would get to laughing. What was to be a funny song to begin with turned out to be a hilarious. The director couldn't get upset with them because the audience was laughing and enjoying them so much.
"Another skit that I thought was so funny were the men singing, ‘Gotta Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair’. Wrapped up in towels and wearing wigs was funny enough but when they starting singing it turned into a real comedy act.
"I myself enjoyed being in the trio with Laura Weinzimmer and Connie Longsworth when we sang ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’."
?Susan Addy said, "?What fun and entertainment. I met wonderful people that I am still friends with today."
"Oh, the days of the Sweetheart Follies and with that, my youth," said Peggy Snyder. "I remember when we would meet at the Catholic Hall. It seemed like the entire town would show up for tryouts or practice. Groups of hopeful performers reading over scripts, practicing lines and and the hopeful singers lining up with music sheets or acapella choices ready to be a part of the "spotlight". Groups of those who seemed to pretend they were back at High School once again and those who stood back and watched. All with one thing in common, THE SHOW! One year I was a new mother with a wee baby and Steve would bring our daughter in for her nursing. Trying to find a secluded corner was difficult. I think back now and think I was nuts but I was not alone. When reversals began at the Middle School the hallways were filled with confusion, laughter and "Oohs and Aahs" over a skit just viewed. There was always someone looking for someone else for the next skit coming up. had moments when I leaped out of my shell and became a person of adventure, caught up in the excitement filling the air. Each year a new star was born and another got better."
Melba Guy summed it up by saying, "Many years of fun and friendship. Sometimes I really miss it, all of the laughs and good times, meeting new people and the directors. So much fun, so many wonderful memories. The Follies made lots of money for the community and for the schools. I am very proud to be have been a part of The Sweetheart Follies. It is unreal (that we had) all of the talent in this little community."