Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Will Rogers – An American Original

Written and Performed by Kevin McKillipwill rogers an american original

Based on the life and writings of Will Rogers

Directed by Alison C. Vesely

Produced by First Folio Theatre

At Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oak Brook, IL

On his political affiliations:

“I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

– Will Rogers

On the Stock Market Crash:

“If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”

“I never met a man I didn’t like.”

– Will Rogers

Kevin McKillip makes Will Rogers come alive

In a world premiere, writer/performer Kevin McKillip sure has channeled Will Rogers. McKilip has the Okie accent, the everyman humility, and the common sense persona of the nation’s first stand-up comic and social philosopher.   Combining Rogers’ folksy, down-home kitchen-sink humor with satire of  national politics and a message of hope, the presentation plays like a 1934 live Rogers’ radio show with McKillip displaying the rope tricks as Will’s trade mark.

will rogers an american original

At the time of his death in 1935, Will Rogers hosted the most popular radio show in America, had a daily column that ran in over 400 papers, and was the number one male box office star for three years running. In the course of a career that included both Cactus Jack’s Wild West Show and the Ziegfeld Follies, Will Rogers invented the American stand-up comic. Will Rogers was the most popular celebrity of his time. He was the first cowboy to win the hearts of all Americans with his humility and common sense.

Kevin McKillip gave a tour de force performance as Will Rogers. Unfortunately, the material is too authentic, to 1930’s to render humor and irony to 21st Century audiences.  On opening night, little laughter was heard despite McKillip’s compelling performance.  I blame the dated references and our lack of a sense of history for the lack of humor. Also, Rogers often was subtle and tongue-in-cheek in his comments and his comic style. Over time, Rogers’ unique Middle American persona became over saturated. His observations on government, the economy, and society are as timely now as when he first made them but the humor falls flat mainly because McKillip didn’t update the material to contemporary issues.

I believe Will Rogers – An American Original is a worthy presentation of Will Rogers’ personality, his style (including the rope tricks), and his stand-up comedy style.  The historical significance of Rogers’ legacy is in good hands with Kevin McKillip.  He channels Will Rogers effectively.


Tom Williams

At the Mayslake Peabody Estate, Rt 83 & 31st Street, Oak Brook, IL, call 630-986-8067, tickets $28 – $30, students/seniors $23- $25, Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission.

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