Shelle Jennings ends her gig as ‘Park City Follies’ music director on a high note
Pianist worked with show for 11 years
Shelle Jennings spent the past 11 years helping groups of locally based amateur and semi-professional actors and singers make fun of Park City.
This year, the Park City Follies went without Jennings, who decided to finish her turn as the program’s musical director
“I loved working with these folks and doing this, but it’s a young person’s job,” Jennings told The Park Record during an interview at hear home in the Snyderville Basin. “I have found as I have gotten older that I have a choice. I can either do the late-night stuff and not do the early-morning stuff, because it was hard to do it all.”
When The Park City Follies opens for its annual run on Thursday, April 20, at the Egyptian Theatre, the new musical director will be Katy Lillquist, who has Jennings full blessing.
“I knew I had given it my all and that there would be someone else in this town who would step forward,” Jennings said. “Katy is the perfect young woman to do this, because I’m a dinosaur and just a pianist.”
Lillquist, on the other hand, uses a keyboard that is programmed with different sounds.
“I don’t much like the keyboards because I don’t know what to do with all of that stuff,” Jennings said. “I think this has opened up entirely new and different opportunities for [Park City Follies Director] Paul Tan and the cast to use as well.”
Jennings, who worked with Lillquist on the transition, said she is at peace with her decision to step away from The Follies.
“We still had the read-through at our house earlier this year because it’s always so much fun, but after everyone left and my husband Jim and I were cleaning up, I said aloud, ‘I’m so glad I listened to my inner voice at the end of last year, because it is so much work in such a short period of time,’“ Jennings said. “It was nice to say to myself that I made the right decision and that I was happy I did it.”
The past 11 years with The Follies has been an adventure, and while she doesn’t remember particulars about her first night of rehearsals in 2006, Jennings does remember the occasions.
She had been part of the production of “The Full Monty” that ran at the Egyptian and was recruited for The Follies that year.
“At that time, [‘The Full Monty’] director, Dana Durbano Keiter did The Follies, and
Terence Goodman directed the show the next two years after that,” Jennings said. “I remember thinking that first year that it wasn’t such a big deal, because there were fewer songs, and the songs that were done were supported by a small choir.”
The stage set up was different as well.
“The piano was down on the left side of the stage and behind it were 10 chairs,” Jennings said. “The chairs were for a choir I put together as support to the characters on stage. We used the choir for four years.”
The Follies rehearsals and structure changed when Paul Tan came on board as director in 2009.
“We still had a choir in 2010, but the next year he wanted to see if the actors could sing on their own,” Jennings said. “While it was harder for those on stage, the numbers were so much fun.”
Tan’s vision, talent and wit bring out the very best in the cast.
“He continues to be generous with his time and spotlight sharing, which is somewhat unusual in the theater,” Jennings said. “He always made me feel important and special.”
The band in 2011 featured bassist George Dymalski, violinist Patti Toth-Mayo, drummer Mark Conklin and guitarist Gary Howard.
“George is the most remarkable gentleman who has been with me from the get-go,” Jennings said. “Guitarist David Rolfe joined us later.”
The band members helped Jennings maneuver the creative song arrangements and lyrics that were written by Terry Moffitt.
“The main challenge was to work with these incredibly talented people, particularly Terry,” Jennings said. “While Tom Clyde, Paul Tan and Rick Klein are the script writers, Terry is the song person. Whatever she has going in that remarkable head of hers is always a joy because I get these songs with these great lyrics.”
The challenge on Jennings’s part was to make the songs work.
She would work endless hours with Moffitt, Sarah Klingenstein and longtime cast member Steve Phillips on each song.
“We would spend time at home working to get them just right, so I could teach the songs to the cast by start of the full rehearsals,” Jennings said.
Although she doesn’t have a favorite production, she remembers the most difficult song to play: a take on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“You’re looking at an older person here,” she said with a laugh. “I knew I had heard it before, but I was so out of my league.”
Again Jennings thanked the band members for their support.
“David Rolfe, who retired from Follies in 2014, was so patient with me,” she said. “We worked and worked and worked and I think we pulled it off, because the reaction from the audience was spectacular.
“Once we got it pulled together, it was fun to do, but I will never forget how much of a challenge that was. I felt like I had arrived once I was able to put that in.”
Jennings also enjoyed getting to know cast members throughout the years. And that’s the tough part of her deciding to step down.
“These people were my Follies family because there were people I worked with that I didn’t see any other time of the year, except when Follies started,” Jennings said with emotion in her voice. “It was like a family reunion.
“If you look at the cast members throughout the years, you will see people who are the heartbeat and conscience of Park City. There are people who care about this community who want to make it a good place and celebrate where we have come from and where we’re going to go. That’s the thing of which I am most proud.”
Although Jennings isn’t playing in the show this year, she still plans to attend some performances.
“We will be going on April 23 and the closing night on Sunday, April 30,” she said. “I’m so excited to see the production and sit back and say, ‘I remember all of those people.’”
Park City Follies, the annual musical that pokes fun at all things Park City, will open at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, for a nine-day run at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. The performances will continue at 8 p.m. on April 21-22 and 26-29. There will be two Sunday performances at 6 p.m. on April 23 and April 30. For ticket information, visit http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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