In 1913, the Majestic Theatre rose from Second Street as the city’s premier vaudeville palace, a structure then described in the Corvallis Gazette-Times as “a thing of beauty and what is likely to prove a joy forever.”
Nearly a century later, a “forever” ongoing, the building cuts a grand figure still, and the vaudeville/variety format — once declared finished by film, television and other entertainments of convenience — has never truly died.
As a matter of fact, it’s at last come home.
There’s something at once venerable yet daringly contemporary about The Red Raven Follies. Its roster is rife with such diversions as acrobatics, juggling, song, theater and dance, a bouillabaise of talents delivered, in the words of cofounder Rachel Pietila (who performs, as all Follies members do, under a stage name; Pietila’s is Golden Delicious), with a “huge dollop of fun” and a generous splash of sex appeal. As Ember Woodruff (Lady Slipper) quipped, when asked if there was any significance to the color red in the group’s name, “No, but we are smokin’ hot.”
Pietila and Woodruff established the vivacious Follies in 2009 after the dissolution of the Eugene burlesque troupe Terpsichore’s Daughters, named in honor of the Greek muse of choral song and dance. Although the women weren’t members, they did perform in the group’s final show. But Pietila and Woodruff weren’t ready to quit. So they combed through their contacts and created The Red Raven Follies, then built its reputation in a most fitting locale: Eugene’s fabled Whiteaker neighborhood, an electric stretch of studios, coffeehouses, watering holes, wineries, coffeehouses and sounds spiced with a funky sparkle.
“One of our first shows was in my backyard,” Pietila recalled. “We called all of our friends with musical talent and performance skills. It took about 20 minutes to put together an almost three-hour show. We realized that this type of format, the vaudeville format, can encompass so much — all the different styles, all the different skill sets. They all come together under the variety umbrella, and the formula is magical.”
It’s proven to be a winning formula, too. Last November, the Follies were declared 2011’s Best Performing Arts Group by Eugene Weekly readers barely a month after they’d made their WOW Hall debut.
Even in smaller houses they’ve been triumphant; in a video shot at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene last year, a spirited routine to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was met with an appreciative, if boisterous, reception, proving that what once wowed pleasure-seekers in smoke-filled halls and parlors can knock ’em just as dead in the Millennial age, where audiences remain as eager as ever to escape the trite and mundane.
The Follies are structured around core members Pietila, Woodruff, Ruby McConnell (Ruby Blush) and Tiffany Hutchins (Tarnished Penny), but its numbers can, in Pietila’s words, “radiate” — y’know, swell, expand, multiply — depending on the demands of the show and the size of the venue. Luckily, the Majestic can accommodate an extravaganza, although Pietila and Woodruff are quick to emphasize that this particular tantalizing production is for mature audiences only.
“The Majestic has everything we could possibly desire, as far as the stage goes,” Pietila said. “Great sound system — it’s the cream of the crop. There will be aerial stunt performances. We’re bringing our clowns. We’re also bringing two premier performers.”
Those would be the Corvallis-based Babs Jamboree, a 2011 Rose City School of Burlesque graduate whose suitcase act is a sassy delight; and Hazel Mae, a former local who’s now turning heads in New Orleans.
Complementing the program are the exotic sounds of Black Magdalene, winding through a songbook of dark intrigue and slinky beckoning. (Their version of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black” adeptly fulfills the original’s Middle Eastern yearnings.)
The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3. Admission is $10 online or at the door. For more information, contact the Majestic at 541-758-7827 or visit www.majestic.org.
“There’s a little something for everyone,” Woodruff said. “People who love dance are going to see some neat choreography, people who like burlesque are going to see a wink and a smile, and people who love the circus are going to love the aerials and clowns. We appeal to a broad range of folks. It’s very colorful and creative, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had.”