Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2014

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vintage review:

Les Folies Bergere,’ 50 years ago

Brian Greenspun shares a review of the Tropicana show that dazzled Vegas from the first time its dancers set foot on stage

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Leila Navidi

Crew member Ted Zylman sweeps the stage before one of the final performances of Folies Bergere at the Tiffany Theatre inside the Tropicana.

"Folies Bergere" closes the curtain

The showgirls are reflected in a mirror during a performance of Folies Bergere at the Tiffany Theatre inside the Tropicana Monday, March 23, 2009. Folies Bergere's last show will be Saturday, March 28, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Les Folies Bergere

A Folies Bergere performer poses for the camera during a 1977 performance at the Tropicana's Tiffany theater. Launch slideshow »

Sun Blogs

Beyond the Sun

“Les Folies Bergere” at the Tropicana ends an incredible run that has spanned almost the entirety of Las Vegas’ modern history. There has been much written about the closure of what was a groundbreaking Las Vegas spectacle.

Following is a column by the Las Vegas Sun’s founding publisher, Hank Greenspun, almost 50 years ago, when “Folies” was brand new and so was our small but promising town. There are lessons to be learned — again. Most assuredly, there is the one about the relationship between great entertainment and the certainty of success as the world’s leading tourist destination for those who take the risk.

Thank you “Folies Bergere” and thank you Tropicana for a marvelous and entertaining half-century, the kind that can only be found in Las Vegas.

By Hank Greenspun

From Chopin to Can-Can.

In April 1957, the Tropicana Hotel opened in our city. It was a plateau in the development of the town, for new standards were set for future builders to follow.

It was plush, comfortable living for persons of most discriminating taste — accommodations which could only be found in the largest of metropolises. For many it was bringing the famed Taj Mahal and planting it in the middle of the desert for gambling pilgrims to come and admire.

They came in droves and admired from a distance. They looked but did not touch. Elegant magnificence which kept the average person away who feared the cost of such apparent luxury.

The Tropicana shows were brilliantly conceived spectaculars that would have packed them in anywhere else in the country but like the hotel itself, Las Vegas was not quite ready for such sumptuousness.

People shook their heads and wondered how long the place would last. The feeling was until the owners ran out of money and from the changes in management, the end might have been closer than many people realized.

It all belongs to history now. The Tropicana has arrived and its success is only limited by the number of rooms they can keep adding.

For probably the first time in the brief history of the hotel, something occurred Friday night which would have amazed every other Strip hotel owner only a few weeks before. A man offered a woman dollar blackjack player $50 to give him her seat at the tables. That’s how crowded was the casino.

And without taking anything from J. Kell Houssels, the present managing director who has done a remarkable job in instilling life into an almost dormant but glorious structure, credit will go to the show which opened Christmas night.

We’re not supposed to write about the “Folies Bergere,” which arrived at the Tropicana direct from Paris, France, because the official press opening is on Monday night. The purpose being to give Producer Lou Walters a chance to iron out any bugs which usually arise in bringing over so mammoth a production from foreign shores. If improvements are to be made, it isn’t apparent to this critic who has seen them all and will have to admit that it will be many a year before anything in Las Vegas will be able to top it.

The “Folies Bergere,” which supposedly made Paris famous, is a cheap imitation of the “Folies Bergere” which opened at the Tropicana two nights ago.

From beginning to end this is the most dazzling entertainment which any city has been privileged to see. It’s saucy, piquant and racy in the splendidly provocative French way.

It’s the Old French theory of “girls, girls, girls.” They come at you from all sides in the most dazzling of costumes and shapes. And not just a display of feminine nudity but beautiful, talented dancers whose facial expressions and body movements are continental theatre.

From Chopin to Can-Can, all phases of the theater are covered in an hour and a half of entertainment that becomes more delightful and intriguing as scenes unfold. Georges Lafaye and Company make a top hat and a feather boa speak the language of love with almost human expressions.

Varel and Bailly Et Les Chanteurs De Paris are a group of top French recording stars who sing a medley of French and American music which actually starts the audience humming and swaying. The poignancy of the French love songs and the beauty of music from “My Fair Lady” — sung in French — are intertwined with rare skill and enchantment.

Every act is terrific and magnificently produced in rare good taste. There are nudes but not just the standing-around kind. These are occupied nudes guaranteed not to offend anyone’s sensibilities including our county commissioners who have rare talents of becoming offended at the most artistic of acts.

“Folies Bergere” transplants you to another world. A lovely continental atmosphere that moves so fast the audience doesn’t realize it’s over until they spontaneously come to their feet to salute the performers.

We don’t mean to steal a march on the show critics but only to comment on the new stability that has finally been attained by one of Las Vegas magnificent showplaces.

London has its Palladium. In Paris it was the “Folies Bergere” and Le Lido de Paris. New York had its Ziegfeld Follies. Now Las Vegas — a small town nestled in the desert miles from anywhere — has them all and in greater splendor.

Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, is now no idle boast.

Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.