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Fun at the Follies

A big night in Swansea; it's broke, let's fix it; honoring Richard Walton
By PHILLIPE AND JORGE  |  March 5, 2014

Most folks who read ”Cool, Cool World” on a regular basis know about “The Follies” — i.e., the Providence Newspaper Guild Follies. Forty-one years ago, in the aftermath of a bitter labor dispute between the Guild (the union that represents more than 300 workers — from reporters to janitors to ad salespeople — at a number of daily local newspapers, including the BeloJo) and Providence Journal management, the Guild created the Follies as a way to “heal the wounds and bring the state’s political, labor and business elite together for a good bash.” It’s an evening of comedy and musical parodies written and performed predominately by Guild members, though, in recent years, there have been more non-union folks appearing as performers. P&J have attended almost all the Follies shows over the years and we were the first in the local media to write about this event. So, last Friday, we ventured forth to witness the latest.

The Follies always take place on the last Friday evening in February without public advertising; you can only get tickets through the union office. Yet, every year, approximately 1500 people show up at the Venus De Milo in Swansea, MA, with tickets in hand. And, indeed, it is a gathering of political, labor, and business elite as well as various members of the local media. The only big surprise this year for your superior correspondents was when Michelle Kwan (figure skating legend and wife of gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell) told Jorge that she “had heard of Rudy Cheeks.” Fat chance of that unless she’s been boning up on the Pell Oppo Research Team.

Usually, P&J critique the performances, but we’ll pass on that this year and just give you a taste of the biting satire. After Follies co-emcee (and BeloJo staff writer) Andy Smith made a few opening comments (“Yes, we’re changing the name of the state of Rhode Island to Alex and Ani/Alan Shawn Feinstein/Cardi Brothers Land”), the first victim of the night was the near-universally loathed News Talk 630 WPRO host, John “Independent Man” DePetro. “For All the Girls I Called a Whore” (sung to the tune of “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”) featured the lines, “So let the bigwigs stay away/I’ll dump on them three hours a day/I’ll lie and fume and screech/Defend it as free speech/My critics? They won’t get a say.”

Next came an ode to Cheaters, the “gentleman’s entertainment club” on Allens Avenue, to the tune of Rick James’s “Super Freak,” then a Linc Chafee impersonator sang a rendition of “My Way.” Other targets? The toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge, alleged parking ticket retribution in Cranston, the impending sale of the Other Paper, the fate of Providence’s abandoned “Superman” building, Bishop Thomas Tobin, and new Vo Dilun resident, Taylor Swift.

Another Follies tradition is the unveiling of a “mystery guest” — someone in the public spotlight who gets a chance to show his or her comedy stuff — at the end of the evening. This year it was former Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine who, it could be argued, is a better entertainer than mayor. (P&J first witnessed this at the RI Comedy Hall of Fame induction of Charlie Hall last year).

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