The Standard Theatre, later known as the Century Theater and then Shubert's Missouri, before settling into its name as the Folly Theater, opened in downtown Kansas City in 1900. In its early days, the building — the oldest theater in the city — hosted tawdry burlesque and vaudeville shows. In the late '60s, you could catch a skinflick in the joint. The Folly still stages worthy events — Bill Shapiro's Cyprus Avenue Live series comes to mind — but the verve and edge of the place have largely eroded with the passage of time.
This is the part where we tell you about a group of enthusiastic upstarts who seek to save the Folly from irrelevance and introduce it to a new generation. But that would be only half true. Because while Jeremy Lillig, Annie Cherry, Damian Blake and Alex Espy — the core group behind the New Century Follies — are youngish, creative types, their show is fundamentally inspired by the vaudeville aesthetics of the Folly's heyday: burlesque, juggling, comedy and big-band music.
"Jeremy has worked a lot with the Folly, and he thought it made sense to revitalize vaudeville at an old vaudeville house," says Brad Cox, of the People's Liberation Big Band. "He approached us with the idea of playing the role of the house band, so we'll be doing some of our own material as pre-show music, plus some music in between performances, and then also backing up a few of the burlesque numbers. We've played the Folly before a couple of times — it's a great hall for a band like us, with lots of horns."
The show, emceed by Daisy Buckët and Phil Hooser, features performances from Cherry, Blake (a nationally regarded Chaplin impersonator), Voler Aerial Acrobatics, and 15 or so other acts. "We'll have a garter-cutting ceremony at 9 p.m., and then the show starts at 9:30 p.m.," says Espy, the associate artistic director and associate producer. "It'll be a constant rotation of sketches, burlesque acts, live singing, musicians, aerial acts. We're hoping to get a good crowd and turn it into a monthly event."
What is the New Century Follies' position on alcohol? "Full bar," Espy says. "Full bar."