A FONG BEE RETROSPECTIVE
The Neighborhood Follies
25 years ago at the corner of Volz Drive and Warren Avenue...

Most people can't remember what they did 25 years ago. But, if you ask Ted and Joe Fong what they did in the Summer of 1974, they will recall listening to a scratchy old record of the Disney classic, Pinocchio, narrated by Jimmeny Cricket. At age 11, Ted wrote it all down word for word. But to what end? They wanted to put on a play. There are some things they don't learn in summer school. This is one of them.


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The Fong brothers had delusions of grandeur about becoming the next Rogers and Hammerstein. Perhaps this drive was inspired by their mother who constantly exposed them to classical music, broadway shows, and the like. Even though they possessed no theatrical talent whatsoever, they were determined to put on some kind of show. After all, their parents just finished building a porch on the new addition to the house. It was the perfect stage. After recruiting their neighbors, Leif Johnson and Lael Caplan among them, the Fongs and their cast rehearsed dialog and songs for all of three weeks. What to name the group of performers was a subject of much debate. Finally, the Fongs consulted their older brother Barron John. "Call it the Neighborhood Follies. That should get a lot of attention." He really meant it as a play on words, but Ted and Joe ran with it anyway not knowing any better. With some crude advertising that included a parade down Warren Avenue, the young cast convince about 50 people to show up at "opening night." The show lasted all of 35 minutes and was met with critical acclaim. "Not bad for a bunch of unsupervised punks," someone said.

The late Paul B. Johnson of Warren Avenue illustrated all the playbills for the Neighborhood Follies. He also created the wild life illustrations on the California fish and game licenses.

Back in those days, the summers were long and boring. The neighborhood kids were eager to do something - anything. A year went by, and the Fongs were at it again. This time listening to a record of "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown." Several things clicked in place. Other kids in the neighborhood wanted to be part of the act, so an audition was held, and the Fong brothers chose their cast. It was also the first encounter the Fongs had with "stage parents." To show their commitment to the new cause, they made themselves available to the Fong duo. When Ted learned that Mike Fast's dad was manager of the little league, he approached him, "We need bleachers. Go get them." At that moment, he realized that the support of the grown ups and the division of labor could really make this thing fly. Power was a beautiful thing (puberty could wait). Once the bleachers were brought in, the buzz got around that something big was going to happen at the Fong's house. "We could probably fit 300 people in this backyard," mused Joe Fong. The professional flyer created by the late Paul Johnson raised the stakes. Charging 25 cents for admission and giving away free refreshments made this event an irresistable deal. On August 2, 1975, the attendance at opening night surpassed all expectations. The show and the songs they performed actually had some flow. For the first time, people called it a "production."

Two years went by and nothing. In the summer of 1977, the neighborhood came back to life. Enter Douglas Fong who would later earn the distinction, "Impressario of the Backyard" from the Sacramento Bee. He had spent the better part of his college years studying and writing music (when he should have been studying economics). He could hardly resist the temptation to stage another Neighborhood Follies production, but this time on a scale not seen since the great Zigfield Follies [or whatever]. At least that's what he hand in mind. It would be the first time the Neighborhood Follies would use a live orchestra and real stage effects and sets. Recruiting for actors, stage hands, and a marketing and financial committee started in earnest. The stage parents turned out to run the business, holding several meetings throughout the summer. Doug called the production "Tonight Live!," a musical variety show filled with one liners, gags, and fully-orchestrated production numbers. The attention of the Sacramento Bee was upon the grouped of now-charged-up performers. A new era in backyard theatre was born...

Stay Tuned for Part II

Date

Show / Flyer

Story Line

August 1974

Pinocchio

The tale of a kaidoy puppet turned little boy (View Program)

August 1975

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

A day in the life of a likable loser

August 1977

Tonight Live!

A wacky musical variety show (View News Item)

August 1978

The Neighbor Hoods

Kids being kids by acting like adults

Pinocchio program