Gay director John De Los Santos keeps his elders in line in his annual ‘Senior Follies’

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

choreographer John de los Santos
SANTOS GOLD | If a hip goes out, choreographer John de los Santos is ready to jump in.

Eisemann Center,
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
Sept. 3–5. $10–$50.

You’re never too old to tap dance.
While that’s not the official mantra of the Spectacular Senior Follies 2010, it should be. The singing, dancing, variety extravaganza from producer Mark Carroll is back and as choreographer John de los Santos has learned in his second year on the show, age is just a number for the over-55 set.
“Botox has been very kind to them,” he jokes.

De los Santos, whose choreography credits include hits for Uptown Players, the Fort Worth Opera and last year, Carmen at the Kennedy Center for the Washington National Opera, has had to learn to quickly switch gears when juggling shows simultaneously. By day, he’s working on the U.S. premiere of the Pet Shop Boys’ Closer to Heaven for Uptown Players and by night, the Senior Follies, which opens this weekend.

“I’m going from 18-year-olds to 88-year-olds,” he laughs.

His oldest cast member is a spry 92. He says that working with the seniors is great because not only do they have lots of life experience and wisdom to share, they’re happy to be performing again.

“Most of them had stage experience. A few of them were in vaudeville or burlesque back in the day, but they all have different backgrounds,” he says. “Some were tap dancers who are singing now. Some were cabaret singers who are now doing complicated staging. We wouldn’t have cast them if they didn’t already have some experience.”

But choreographing an aging cast does have its challenges. The young whippersnapper has to keep his cool when dealing with all this experience — and personality.

“You just have to be very, very patient and optimistic all the time,” he says. “The minute you get frustrated or impatient, they just shut off. I have to keep a smile on my face and try to make them laugh.”

But de los Santos keeps a trick up his sleeve.

“It’s funny because the gayer I act, the more they like me,” he laughs before breaking into a mock old lady voice, “I’ve got a grandson that’s just like you!”

The show, which is similar in style to the legendary Ziegfeld Follies, features standards from the ’30s and ’40s, just a tad before 29-year-old de los Santos’ time. But that isn’t even an issue.

“I’ve done a lot of shows from pretty much every period, so I’ve kind of gotten used to it,” he says. “I did a lot of show choir when I was younger. Part of the reason they hired me in the first place is because I know a lot of this material already.”

The finale of the show is one of the biggest numbers de los Santos has to stage, and it’s the one the Senior Follies is perhaps most famous for: a performance by 12 showgirls ranging in age from 55 to 84.

“Some of the gams on these women are to die for,” he says. “They maintain pretty well.”

But for now, he’s just got to get through opening night to be able to relax a little. Even then, there are always unknowns that could pop up when working with seniors. What if someone breaks a hip during a dance number?

“I’ve already planned for that. I’m gonna don a wig, grab a walker and I’ll just do it. I’m sure a lot of people would love to see that.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.