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Joining me at one of the four performances of CHOC Follies' "Chocton Abbey" were CHOC Foundation Vice President Jan Lansing and the show's Director John Vaughan

Joining me at one of the four performances of CHOC Follies’ “Chocton Abbey” were CHOC Foundation Vice President Jan Lansing and the show’s Director John Vaughan

Every year the CHOC Follies show is a spoof on something – always hilarious – and this year’s was no exception. The popular PBS television series Downton Abbey (I’m a huge fan!) was the focus this year, transformed into “Chocton Abbey” for the show, and I loved the  tagline, “The Musical Ups & Downs of Orange County High Life!” Leave it to the very creative, and I might say genius director, John Vaughan, to conjure up a storyline in keeping with the British period drama theme. John’s been doing this show for 17 years, and he just keeps inventing scenarios that are witty, entertaining and just plain fun. The 100 volunteer business, community and philanthropic leaders in the shows tackle the acting, singing and dancing with great gusto, and the result is always delightful and engaging.

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you know that it is the story of a make-believe British aristocratic family and their servants in the early 20th century. “Chocton Abbey,” moved to present-day Orange County, featured Senator Tustin Crawford, played by Louis Berlin, his wife Dora Crawford, played by Mia Maffei, Dora’s mother Lavender “Granny” Crawford, played by Victoria Groskeutz and the irascible Maggie Smith in the tv series), and the Crawford daughters Maria (Juliet Fischer-Schulein – can she dance!), Gertrude (Kelly Emmes) and Cassandra (Jenn Quader). The story revolves around the daughters and getting them hitched, and the “downstairs” staff is a big part of the story.

The show’s opening had everyone on stage at Orange Coast College’s Robert B. Moore Theatre singing and dancing to “Be Our Guest” from Beauty & the Beast, which segued into a sister romp with the family singing “The Lady is a Tramp.” Downstairs in the kitchen saw the servants singing “Food Glorious Food” from Oliver as they prepared for a feast. The Downton Abbey servant cast members reconfigured for “Chocton Abbey” included Paul-Dean Martin as the butler, Nancy Livingston as the housekeeper, Chris Schulz (Orange Coast Magazine’s Publisher/President) as the senator’s valet, Temre Vouga as the senator’s wife’s personal assistant, William Jordan as head footman, Robin Mickle as head parlor maid, Rachel Ray as cook, Lauren Johnston as kitchen maid, and Charles Taylor and Brandon Jenkins as footmen.

Luke Crawford, a distant Crawford cousin and heir to Chocton Abbey, appeared in the story as a hillbilly who comes courting the oldest Crawford daughter Maria. Also in the hillbilly mix is Luke’s mother, Lulabelle Crawford (Barbara DePrete Goda) and three cousins Zettie May (Laurie Compton), Minnie Lou (Heidi Miller) and Hattie Sue (Diane Estrada). Don’t you love those names?! The staged song and dance number, “Be My Baby,” was very funny and segued into more guests coming to the party. In fact, it was a virtual mix of British royalty, world figures, celebs, and headline scorchers with one-liners being thrown out a mile a minute in quintessential Vaughan style. Cast members included Pamela Roossin as Carrie Underwood, Ricardo Puentes as the Florida to Cuban swimmer Diana Nyad, Kasey McKinley as Queen Elizabeth II, Devan Labang as Duchess of Cambridge, Tim Bercovitz as Duchess of Cornwall (hilarious!!), Don Putzig as Mayor Rob Ford, and Kathy Fleming as Chancellor Andrea Merkel. Made up figures included Ron Hartman as The Bishop of Bling and Barbara Attell as psychic Ouigi McQuack (love the play on the name – she was fabulous!). The mayhem concluded with everyone singing and dancing to “Master of the House” from Les Miserables (with William Jordan and Timre Vouga singing solos as the salacious innkeepers). Concluding Act I saw the Fitzgerald’s chauffeur, played by Chris Senesac, and his love interest, the youngest Crawford daughter Cassandra, dance amazingly to the popular Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” hit. Next up, the psychic, “Granny Widget,” tries to convince the Crawford’s middle daughter “Gertie” to loosen up to get a man in “No Time At All” from Pippin. The dance number with silver sequined ghosts was darling. Next you see that the oldest daughter Maria has married the hillbilly Luke and is rocking their baby while the butler Paul-Dean Martin sings Jan & Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve,” relaying that Luke has died in a car crash (as he did in the real Downton Abbey). The act ends with a fabulous tap number to Gershwin’s “Crazy for You.”

Act II opened to a ballroom full of guests, hosted by Senator Crawford. Guests featured the likes of Lady Gaga (April Malina) singing her famous “Applause” hit (she nailed it!). Other noted guests included Luke Bryan (Shawn Hoctor), Bruno Mars (Quincey Hinton), Psy (Bill Wiley, and, of course, the famous Gangnam Style dance was performed), Francois Hollande (Rob Magnotta), Julie Gayet (Michele Agopian), Catherine Deneuve (Carol Geronsin), Kate Winslet (Kerry Melachouris), Judi Dench (Jane Dadant), Keira Knightley (Diana Marshall), Barbara Walters (Barbara Meyers), Justin Bieber (Tim Bercovitz), Ginger Zee (Rebecca Hall), Naomi Judd (Susan Assad), Wynonna Judd (Tina Bright), Nigella Lawson (Colleen Noack), Carla Hall (Charla Batey), Daphne Oz (Traci Pennington), Deepok Chopra (Brian Ton), Shakira (Jeanne Walker), Charo (Lori Freeman), Vera Wang (Jane Yada), Donatella Versace (Janice Horn), Perry Mason (Bob Ampe, who sang a sweet “The Family Solicitor” from Me and My Girl with Maffei), Mary Poppins (Linda Miller), Miss Marple (Diana Mondini), Martha Stewart (Susan Vopat), Sophia Loren (Laura Baratta), Willie Nelson (Phil Bradley), Jake Owen (Adam Miller), Clint Black (Ryan Block), and Eric Church (Scott Larson).

CHOC Follies Founder and Executive Director Gloria Zigner thanked Follies co-chairs, all of whom were in the show – Sandy Segerstrom Daniels was Tustin’s sister Rosemary Crawford, Dale Skiles was Carmen Miranda and SueAnn Cross was Gloria Vanderbilt – and told the crowd that the Follies had raised $7 million for CHOC Children’s Hospital since its inception 17 years ago. Her right-hand “woman,” Lois Augustine, who is Follies’ Associate Producer and CHOC’s Director of Community Relations, said this year’s effort had netted nearly $465,000 for a Child Life Department’s music and art therapy program at CHOC. Vaughan thanked his team, consisting of Music Director Doug Austin, Choreographer Lee Martino, Set Designer Bob Mumm, Costume Designer Lynda Krinke, and Dance Captain Robin Mickle. Cast member Paul-Dean Martin brought the message home as he shared that his son Max was at CHOC in October, 2013, with a serious blood disorder. He lauded CHOC’s Dr. Ahmed Soni, who he introduced from the audience, for his care and expertise in saving his son’s life and shared that Dr. Soni had made a donation to CHOC in Max’s name.

Capping off the evening, the show closed with the heartfelt song, “Love in Any Language,” with Robin Mickle, Mia Maffei and April Malina sharing solos. I later learned that 2,300 people attended the four “Chocton Abbey” shows. I think Downton Abbey was sufficiently skewered, and kudos to everyone who helped make it a success for the children at CHOC!

Selected photos by Peggy and Pat O’Donnell

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