The Frantic Follies Vaudeville Show was a staple for Yukoners and visitors alike for 47 years, bringing gold-rush themed vaudeville performances to the stage. Last year, owner Grant Simpson lowered the curtain on the show and it appeared that it would be the end of an era for Yukon performing arts. But some things are too good and too well loved to be left to ride off into the sunset. After the show’s close, Northern Vision Development approached Simpson about putting together a new show to bring to stage at the Yukon Convention Centre—and the Klondike Follies Cabaret was born.
“[Northern Vision food and beverage manager] David Branigan asked if I could put together a new show,” Simpson said. “If we could come up with a new concept and idea.
“Last year [there] were two test shows and the response was overwhelming. This year we’ve developed it further, for eight weeks.”
To make the show sustainable, the Klondike Follies is aiming to become a destination not only for tourists exploring the territory and our Klondike Gold Rush history, but also as a show for Yukoners to enjoy multiple times. The show won’t simply repeat the same performance each week, as Simpson and the cast are preparing to mix it up and explore new talents.
“We’re scaling up to something that locals and tourists can enjoy,” Simpson explained. “We are planning to have different headliners, each week, and working to include something different each week that incorporates in the headliner to the skits.
“The cast are working on different skits and versions of the skits. Locals can get to three shows and see different shows each time.”
A theme of the show will be to explore new talents and expand beyond the traditional Follies skits. Simpson has written the opening song using Stompin’ Tom Connors’ “Long Gone to the Yukon” and has made it into an arrangement for a big production. He also noted that he’s excited to have cast Malo Gendreau, an aerial silk artist who will recreate a modern version of Klondike Kate’s famous “Flame Dance.”
The Klondike Follies is a truly made-in-the-Yukon show, with Simpson leaning heavily on local performing talent to both cast and produce the show. The skits are locally developed and most are written by Yukoners Grant Hartwick and Dale Cooper, while Yukoner Allyn Walton is a co-producer and manager of the cancan performers. Simpson credits Walton with having a better eye than he does. “She makes the show look good,” he said.
Shauna Jones is also developing acts for the show, including an expanded version of the humorous “Banana Dance” that may be familiar to previous showgoers. Without giving too much away, Simpson noted that the skit involves a gorilla peeling a banana.
The headliners are a key new addition to the show, and Simpson has reached out to a mix of old favourites and unique acts who provide a wide variety of talents to showcase. To launch the season, Simpson recruited a Yukon icon, Gillian Campbell, who he felt was the best choice to kick off the new format and vaudeville show. Campbell moved to Dawson City in 1967 to be part of shows there and, in the ’70s, had developed her own show, The Klondike Kate Show. It featured her as Klondike Kate and has been in demand all over Canada and the world, ever since.
“Gillian is probably the most entrenched showbiz gal in the territory,” Simpson said. “She wasn’t up for Rendezvous this year, so it just seemed right.”
Simpson has secured some other big headliners including musician Roy Forbes, who was known as “Bim” when he started performing, and will be timing his visit with a booking at the Atlin Music Festival. Forbes, who hails from Dawson Creek, B.C., is a talented guitar player whose playing is heavily influenced by acoustic blues and traditional country music.
“Roy is like a folk legend,” Simpson said. “He was able to come out on stage with himself and a guitar, and command a room.”
Forbes is a big act to accommodate, so Simpson needed to coordinate with the Atlin Music Festival and come up with a bit of incentive to get him on stage.
“I’ve known Roy for a long time, and he started pitching me about putting “Saskatchewan Moon” in the show,“ Simpson laughed. “So when I started this show and gave him a call, I asked, ‘So you wanna put that song in the show or not?’ He’s doing it because it’s fun.”
Wes Barker, a stunt magician who was named the Variety Performer of the Year by the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities, in 2017, will headline another week. His act includes magic tricks, stunts and comedy, a combination that enabled him to stump famous Las Vegas magicians Penn and Teller on episode five of their Netflix show, Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
Yukoner Chelsea Hartwick will also return home from Vancouver to headline this summer. A product of the Whitehorse dance scene, Hartwick has built a career from her passion for dance. She has become a cabaret star with her work with Vancouver performance companies such as Cabaret Torlage and Army of Sass.
The season will also feature three special “Yukoner” nights which, according to Simpson, will feature local talent doing their thing. These shows will be one-night-only affairs on June 30, July 28 and August 25 and, this season, the three Yukon guest stars will be Kevin Barr, Joe Loutchan and Nicholas Mah.
And Simpson would like to feature even more Yukon talent if he has his way. If folks think they have an act that would be a good fit for the new show, they should contact him. “We’re on the lookout for interesting Yukon acts that would work with the show,” Simpson explained. “We kind of are calling it, So You Think You Can Folly?”
The Klondike Follies Cabaret shows will take place three times each week, beginning on June 26, 28 and 30. There are three levels of tickets available: a basic show ticket of grandstand-style seating, a show and dinner ticket, and VIP tickets that feature table service. Tickets went on sale on Monday, June 11th. The can be found online at www.klondikefollies.com or at the High Country Inn and the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel.
Cast and Crew
Musicians: Annie Avery: Piano, Rob Bergman: Bass, Ken Searcy
Song & Dance & Comedy: Grant Hartwick, Dale Cooper, Greg Murdoch, Shauna Jones, Kieran Poile
Choreography: Michelle Fisher, Allyn Walton
Sound & Lights: Roly Mitton & Omni Productions
Light Tech: Cole Simpson
Back Stage & Follow Spot: Cadence Milford, Ella Peschke, Tori Beemer
Managers: Grant Simpson and Allyn Walton
Yukon Talent Nights:
Headliners, as of print:
June 24 – Gillian Campbell
July 1 – No Shows
July 8 – Roy Forbes
July 15 – Wes Barker
July 22 – Roma Swing Ensemble
July 29 – Tim Allen
August 5 – TBA
August 12 – TBA