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How a Forsyth County theater staple is reflecting on its legacy during the show's final run
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Bob Russell was the musical director of the Georgia Senior Follies show for seven seasons before passing away in 2019.

As the immortal thespian saying puts it, the show must go on. But at some point, eventually, every show must come to an end.

This month, the curtains will close on a production that has become a favorite in Forsyth County over the last decade, as the Georgia Senior Follies host their seventh and final run of performances at the School Street Playhouse in downtown Cumming.

According to show co-founder Kathy Russell, this year’s show will commemorate her husband Bob, who was the show’s musical director and who passed away this year just weeks prior to their opening night, and will pay tribute to the dozens of past Follies performances that were reportedly beloved by the local community.

"The theme this year is ‘rewind,’ because what we've done is we have a smaller cast than usual, we handpicked them and we chose the best of the highlights of all the past six follies," Russell said. "It is nothing but sheer entertainment, it’s fun, it’s fast-paced, lots of comedy, beautiful costumes, the set’s beautiful. It’s just an evening of sheer entertainment for any age."

The Georgia Senior Follies productions have been like other typical musicals in many respects, with makeup, choreography, sets and comedy, but what sets them apart is that each of their 32 crew members is over the age of 55.

"The oldest is 88 and she’s a showgirl," she said. "One of them got her doctorate degree at age 68 and went skydiving for her 80th birthday. I mean these are amazing men and women."

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The Georgia Senior Follies are hosting their seventh final run of performance at the School Street Playhouse in downtown Cumming. (Photo courtesy Kathy Russell)

The Georgia Senior Follies Rewind show, according to Russell, will feature a variety of songs and acts from TV, movies and Broadway that the show has covered in previous years. But unlike previous years that sold out almost immediately, local residents still have multiple different opportunities to see the show before its closing night on March 31.

Russell said that they aren’t sure why, but this year things have been slower and for the first time since they began the production the opening weekend didn’t sell out.

"It's kind of odd to me, I don't know if it's the general public is thinking, 'Well, it's not going to be the same with a new director of the playhouse.’ I don't know, I don't know why,” Russell said.

With the great reviews from the patrons at their weekend shows on March 15, 16 and 17, Russell said they think it will pick up for the second weekend now that people have seen the show and can tell their friends, family and co-workers.

"Yesterday's audience moaned when we said that the show was coming to a close, they didn't want the show to end," Russell said. "These are all wonderful positive feedback, but we need bodies in the seats.”

But the moaning didn’t stop there. Russell said that patrons and crew members alike were devastated when the news was announced that the Follies would be ending in 2019.

But for the Russells, the work had outpaced what they could handle.

“Before my husband passed we knew that this was going to be our last Follies," she said. "I think why we decided to end this is truly just because of the enormous work involved in putting on a show like this. It's so much more difficult than doing a Broadway show.”

Unlike other shows, where the music, script and stage directions are preplanned, the Follies pieced together different songs, acts and choreography, Russell said, while making it fit into a script that people would want to see.

"With the Follies, we're creating something from nothing,” she said. “That’s why every year we had a different theme. The creation of something from nothing is a great deal of work."

After a production of “Mama Mia” that she will produce in September, Russell said that she’ll need to decide if she wants to get out of the theater world for good.

But beneath her resolve that the Follies are over, Russell said that she’s not opposed to someone else picking the Follies back up in the future to continue the tradition. But her role in them is done.

"Maybe there’s some new blood out there that would like to carry on, but I'll have to wait and see. Without my husband, a lot of the joy is gone," she said.

The Georgia Senior Follies started March 15 and will run until the 31st. Shows are held at 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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