Joining Orr in this third of four musicals during Lyric's 50th anniversary season is Kristy Cates as Betty Blake Rogers.
In recent years, Oklahoma City has become something of a second home for Cates, a California native who has appeared in previous Lyric Theatre productions of “Snapshots,” “Boeing, Boeing” and “Ragtime.”
The latter afforded Cates an opportunity to play a character known simply as Mother, an early 20th century woman whose dissatisfaction with life led her to exert a surprising degree of independence.
“I feel like Betty sort of picks up where Mother left off,” Cates said. “Betty was an independent-minded woman who was happy to get out of Arkansas. She's working, she's living with her sister and she's not actively seeking a husband.
“I also think Betty had a spark in her that was palpable. Someone like Will Rogers wasn't going to fall in love with someone who didn't have that extra something. It was easier in that era for a woman to be a shrinking violet, find her man and raise their children. Betty knew she was meant for something more than just a simple life.”
“The Will Rogers Follies,” which is subtitled “A Life In Revue,” explores 35 years in Rogers' life. It chronicles his diverse pursuits, from leaving Oklahoma for Argentina to his stint on the roping circuit.
He also was a featured performer in Vaudeville and became a headliner in numerous editions of Florenz Ziegfeld's “Follies.”
Rogers had an easygoing charm and a lifelong fascination with people. As he set off for Argentina at age 19, he reportedly said, “There's a whole lot of people out there, and ... I knew I wanted to meet as many as my time on earth would allow. Because people are what life is all about.” His Oklahoma twang and disarming sense of humor also made him a favorite with audiences worldwide.
“He made fun of every major political, religious and social leader in the world,” Orr said. “But he wasn't mean spirited. He laughed with them. He said he was in the ‘cheering up business' and wanted to make people's lives better whenever he could.
“The Industrial Revolution opened the world for him to travel and that had to be exciting for a young boy who grew up in an isolated environment. This was also a time that saw the birth of celebrity. Everything seemed to come along at the right time for him to become a success.”