Ann Lee McKenzie is a dancer. She once danced with the lights — and Ray Bolger — on Broadway. Al Spatola spent his life as a professional entertainer, mostly in New York. Gervais Brekke is a dancer, too.
Well, at least we think she is.
“I think I’m dancing. I’m hoping to. I’m thinking about it,” she said with a smile.
A remarkably beautiful woman of poise, grace, charm and lightning-fast humor, Brekke would never pass for 95 years old. Yet when asked, she reached for her ID as proof.
All three and many more residents of the so-called retirement community will be performing in the 2015 Kings Point Follies, playing March 6 and 7 at the Borini Theatre in the Kings Point North Clubhouse. It is a show with a long history, and history will be celebrated with a theme of “A Journey Through the ’50s and ’60s.” The show is made up of amateur and former professional performers alike. It is not simply a bunch of retired people putting on a talent show. In many ways, the Follies will showcase the real Sun City Center — a place where people with remarkable pasts and amazing talents have gathered to live out their lives. Indeed, in moving to the community, they brought their talent with them.
Brekke has danced for her entire life. One time, she did so inadvertently on a coral reef in the Bahamas after the sailboat she was aboard with her husband wrecked on the reef in the early morning hours and after a strong wind shift. They used the reef to get to a small, nearby island to await rescue, an incredibly dangerous feat.
“Well, we had sunk, it was one in the morning,” she said. “What are you going to do?”
After two days they were rescued. There was no fresh water on the island so she asked her husband to go back aboard and find something canned, anything that was food or water, the latter being a desperate need.
He returned with beer.
Brekke smiled when she mentioned she had just finished two of them when their rescuer appeared.
On a different trip, sailing back from Bermuda, the dancer saw another, much larger mammal dance — she saw a huge whale tail come out of the water directly in front of their bow.
“I started screaming, but then I thought, oh what the hell,” she said with a laugh. “If something happens, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Which is how she approaches appearing on stage. She is a dancer, a performer, but the thought of reciting lines on stage gives her a healthy dose of stage fright.
As her fellow performers rehearsed in the background, I asked her how long she has been involved in this.
“With living? 95 years,” she instantly responded.
No, no. The Follies.
Ann Lee McKenzie danced on Broadway with stage and film legend Ray Bolger. But she didn’t dance her way from Broadway to Sun City Center Boulevard. She spent more than 20 years working as a choreographer in a school. She signed up when her daughter attended the school and stayed on.
“I like to say that my daughter graduated but I didn’t,” said the charming and graceful woman who will celebrate her 88th birthday this year.
McKenzie has been involved with the Follies since moving to the community in 2002.
“This is a lot of fun,” she said.
Somehow, in speaking with her, the jump from Broadway to Kings Point doesn’t seem so far.
Al Spatola will be celebrating 23 years with the Follies — a modest and soft-spoken man carrying the demeanor of a true gentleman from when that word really meant something. The Follies are a natural extension for him after spending his life being a professional performer.
“I’ve been here for so long this is my world now,” he said.
Perhaps so, but it is a world that he helped to shape with his talent and music.
Bill Barker is the master of ceremonies, and he has been involved in the Follies for nine years. Although he’ll be the public face, he’s quick to point out that he is not running the show; the director and a woman many people credit with saving the Follies, Rose Ostrander, is running the show.
“Many of us are amateurs,” Barker said. “It died out for a few years, but Rose picked it up and brought it back. This is always a fun show.”
At the rehearsal, there was no doubt that Ostrander was running the show. Without barking commands or shouting out mistakes, she guided, and sometimes coached the performers, keeping an eye on the timing of acts.
“I am directing with Linda Stone as assistant director and Diane LeFrancois as choreographer,” Ostrander said. And while everyone pointed to her as the woman in charge, even the woman who saved the show, she was quick to turn the spotlight to the talents and dedication of her performers, amateur and professional alike.
If you don’t live in Sun City Center, chances are you really don’t know today’s Sun City Center. Age is relative, talent and dedication are not — at least not within the Follies. On March 6 and 7, see for yourself what a remarkable group of people can do. Watch Ann Lee and Gervais dance. Hear Al sing. See them all perform, and let them dance and sing their way into your heart. There will be performers young and old, working together and ending with a finale salute to our nation’s veterans.
“It’s a bigger show than we have ever done before,” Ostrander said.
It is a show that could take place nowhere but here. Go see it for yourself.
Cabaret round-table reserved seating tickets may be purchased at the Kings Point Box Office for $14 per person. There will be two evening performances at 7 p.m., one Friday, March 6, and one Saturday, March 7; and a matinee performance at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.