The faded Follies

The thrill is gone at the ProJo shindig; there’s something about Cumberland; and more
By PHILLIPE AND JORGE  |  March 3, 2010

As regular readers of the Cool, Cool World well know, one of the social highlights of the year at Casa Diablo is the Providence Newspaper Guild Follies. Started in 1974, the Follies have been an annual ritual for the Biggest Little's movers and shakers, in particular elected officials and their posses, members of the media and union officials (the Guild is, after all and above all else, a union). It's held on the last Friday in February at the Venus De Milo in Swansea, Massachusetts, and features the Biggest of Biggest Little cocktail parties, the top-of-the-line Venus buffet, and skits and song parodies performed by the Follies gang.

This year your superior correspondents noted that a certain (and what we consider regrettable) trend had become more virulent. When the Follies first started, virtually all writers, performers, and crew members were, if not actual Newspaper Guild members, people who worked at the Providence Journal or another local newspaper. Over the years, ringers and pros have been invited and gotten involved and have performed wonderfully. But what's missing is the camaraderie and spirit that made this event unique and vital.

Don't get us wrong: we still support the Guild and the shows continue to be excellent. But it's different and we can't help but feel that something very special has been lost.

We'd like to report on what happened this year but, for the first time in decades, P&J did not see the show. We arrived at the Venus with great anticipation, but a few things intervened. First, the cocktail party went on and on as if no one was in charge of communicating to the gathering, "Hey it's time to eat!" Then an interminable raffle broke out on stage.

It wasn't until after 9:30, when the Follies would generally be midway through the show, that Sister Ann Keefe, the annual John Kiffney Award winner, was introduced to a large ovation. The Kiffney Award, named for the late, beloved Journal reporter, is a public service award that has gone to some of the most righteous activists in the state. This year was no exception, as Sister Ann is a true inspiration and leader. By the time her speech had ended and the show was to begin, it was 10 pm and the rapidly aging P&J's pumpkin coach was in the parking lot (Phillipe was also suffering from a painful attack of gout).

So yes, this year we missed the show but did stay long enough to catch Patrick Kennedy's bit on his "Top Ten Reasons He Really Left Congress" that kicked off the evening. The retiring congressman received a spirited ovation and, when Phillipe bumped into him on his way out the door, he reported an ebullient and relaxed Patrick, looking (as P. said) "happier than he had seen him in years." We look forward to his contributions outside of government and also predict that he'll be hanging in the Biggest Little for some time.

And one more Follies note: there has been a marked improvement in the Venus' notorious cholesterol bomb buffet. This year there were more vegetables and even a big bowl of hummus and pita bread available. Good going. When health-consciousness comes to the Follies, you know the world is changing.

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