Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2014

Folies Bergere stages comeback without the striking band

The curtain went up on the Folies Bergere show at the Topicana hotel-casino Sunday night with musical accompaniment – from a tape – not from a 13-piece orchestra.

It was the first time the 30-year-old show had been staged since the 13 members of the house band went on strike June 3.

Tropicana spokesman Ira Sternberg, who attended the show, said no problems were noticed 10 minutes into the show. He said the showroom was about one-third full.

“That’s pretty good considering we just made the decision,” he said. “I think you’ll see a substantial increase starting tomorrow.”

Hotel officials announced Saturday announced Saturday they had made a recording for the show, which was closed when union officials rejected a proposed pact that would have phased out the band with severance pay.

“We could no longer allow the decision made by the musicians union to continue to keep so many other Tropicana people out of their jobs,” said John Chiero, hotel president and general manager, in a prepared statement.

He termed the revival of the show a “self-help defensive measure.”

But striking musicians and their fellow members of Musicians Union Local 369 say they are confident taped music will be a bust.

“I think the musicians union is going to win this battle,” said Ron Simone, the keyboardist in the Tropicana’s house band. “I think the tourists and the people of Las Vegas are entitled when they come to this town to the best entertainment in the country.”

Tom Wright, a trumpet player in the band, agreed.

“If it screws up enough and the crowds aren’t big enough because of our p.r., we’ll win that way,” he said. “It’s a war I guess and it’s whoever can hold out longer.”

Wright said small problems with Folies Bergere performances often require musicians to think quickly to cover up errors by adding music or skipping around in the musical score.

“They won’t be able to do that so fast with a tape recorder,” he said.

About 130 members of the 1,500-member union met at their union hall – just a block from the Tropicana – Sunday afternoon, then walked around the resort in a show of solidarity, union business agent Thom Pastor said.

About 50 union members participated in a small demonstration later in the afternoon – far fewer than the 150 union president Mark Massagli had predicted Saturday.

But despite the small numbers and some frustration over the show going on, musicians remained upbeat.

“I kind of expected they would do it, so I don’t feel any different about our overall picture,” said Archie Wheeler, a saxophone player in the band. “In the long run I don’t think their business will come back like it was. I think we can continue to cost them.”

Howard Phillips, a baritone saxophone player, echoed the sentiment.

“I don’t think the people will take to the records, I really don’t,” he said. “People enjoy seeing and hearing live music and that’s part of the show. That’s what they’re paying for.”

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