Former ‘Folies Bergere’ cast members recall show’s glory days

The kick lines may be gone, but the memories linger on.

No longer does the quintessential Vegas showgirl glide across Strip stages, glittering in rhinestones and sequins and sky-high headdresses adorned with baubles, spangles and beads.

The last show to feature such vintage visions — Bally’s “Jubilee!” — closed in February after a 34-year run.

But a new exhibit, “Les Folies Bergere: Entertaining Las Vegas One Rhinestone at a Time,” recaptures the glimmer of those shining showroom days.

A collaboration between the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s Las Vegas News Bureau, the exhibit salutes the Tropicana’s long-running spectacular, which closed in March 2009 after almost 50 years. (The imported-from-Paris show debuted on Christmas Eve in 1959.)

Chosen from more than 5,000 negatives, more than 90 News Bureau photos focus on “Les Folies Bergere” in its heyday, including glimpses of the show’s creators at work and onstage photos of the performers — comedians, acrobatic and adagio dancers, among them Nevada Ballet Theatre founder Vassili Sulich.

Folies Bergere Tout vid

And, most prominently, the showgirls who came to symbolize splashy Las Vegas entertainment.

Costume sketches convey their fanciful less-is-more attire. Mannequins model jewel-toned, sequin-studded ensembles, each costing thousands of dollars to create back in the day.

Other documents tell the backstage “Folies” story: a 1959 showgirl’s $108 salary for 15 shows per week and a 1978 warning to an acrobatic dancer that “it is management’s observation that you need to lose weight in order to add to the appearance of the show.”

Several on- and off-stage “Folies” alumni share their fond recollections in video footage. Among them: Jerry Jackson, who joined the show in 1966 as assistant to choreographer Hermes Pan (who worked with the legendary Fred Astaire for 35 years) and went on to choreograph, direct and even design costumes for various “Folies” editions through the bittersweet end.

To provide the real inside scoop, however, six “Folies Bergere” insiders — four dancers and one wardrobe department veteran — teamed up Saturday to kick off the exhibit with a panel discussion devoted to putting-on-the-show details.

The dancers described the challenge of maintaining their balance, let alone their focus, while climbing up and down stairs (and, during the show’s first years, a ladder) in full costume, complete with 4-foot, 35-pound headdresses with steel skeletons.

“We didn’t put them on until the day of the show, and I said, ‘I’ve got to dance like this?’ ” Teri Thorndike — a dancer and line captain from 1970 to 1990 — recalled of her introduction to “Folies” costuming. “Walking down a flight of stairs, if you tilt your head, the hat’s going to go.” (It was a far cry from her previous job dancing in Disneyland’s “Golden Horseshoe Review.”)

Even on stage, dancers parading along the passarelle — a ramp that brought them closer to the audience — had to negotiate the narrow route and tight corners very carefully “so we would not fall into the (orchestra) pit,” said Angela Santangelo, a showgirl and dancer from 2000 to 2009, when the show closed.

“I fell backwards into the pit” while performing “the kick line,” Thorndike confessed.

“We all fell into the pit,” replied an audience member attending the panel discussion.

Lauri Thompson, a principal adagio dancer from 1983 to 1997, recalled slipping and falling on stage during a number that featured a car — one that turned out to be leaking oil. She even remembered the costume she wore: a ball gown designed by Nolan Miller (best known for TV’s “Dynasty”) that “literally floated” when she moved.

Santangelo cited one routine where “we used ropes as props” and in one performance “my rope became tangled in another girl’s rope,” triggering “sheer panic. We kept tugging and tugging.” Because the two never did get untangled, “we both had to walk off the stage together.”

A Russian costume, meanwhile, once thwarted Sheri Mirault — Thorndike’s twin sister — who was a “Folies” adagio dancer from 1970 to 1990.

“I had a big skirt on, with a tambourine, and my feet got tangled in the back of the skirt,” she explained, demonstrating how she was unable to get to her feet — and had to exit the stage dancing on her knees.

Keeping the costumes cleaned, repaired and ready for action was Kathy Kieffner’s responsibility during her 25 years in the wardrobe department, where she dealt with everything from G-strings to a floor-length, bugle-beaded dress employees had to clean by scrubbing it in a bathtub.

One quick change, Kieffner noted, required her to get a dancer “out of her can-can dress — and almost everything else — for the next number,” all in 30 seconds.

“There’s something so iconic about that can-can dress,” Thompson said. “It’s so sweet on the outside — and so sexy on the inside.”

The one panelist who was present for “Folies Bergere’s” final curtain, Santangelo remembered “so much energy between the cast and the audience — the perma-smiles on everyone’s faces. And the tears.”

Thompson choked up as she observed, “You think, ‘wow — I’m different,’ ” after leaving the cast. “All of a sudden, you’re away.” And “the hardest part about leaving the show: Now that I’m a lawyer, nobody claps.”

It’s been seven years since “Folies Bergere” sang and danced and glittered its last.

“It feels longer,” Thorndike said.

These days, she still dances from time to time — and, like her onstage colleagues, copes with “showgirl neck,” a by-product of all those years keeping her head erect while balancing 30-plus pounds of headgear.

“My first show, I was more worried about the hat, because it was so massive,” Santangelo said before the panel started. “Topless? I didn‘t care about that.”

Yet dancing has changed since the days when audiences were awed by “just seeing a beautiful girl walk across the floor,” Thompson said. “I don’t think showgirls are gone — they’re always the icon of Las Vegas. They’re just transitioning the showgirl into a different role.”

Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Las Vegas residency
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Vegas residency (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES final night showcases Drake at XS Nightclub
Drake performed for CES attendees and club-goers at XS Nightclub in Encore at Wynn Las Vegas in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (John Katsilometes Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Happy Hour party at Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace
Conventioneers mingled during the Hardware Massive CES 2019 Happy Hour Bash at The Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2019 Has A Cordless Hair Dryer
CES Has A Cordless Hair Dryer (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Panel talks Impossible Burger 2.0
Panel talks Impossible Burger at CES during launch at Border Grill on Monday, Jan. 7. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Dream of AJ Montgomery
AJ Montgomery lost part of his leg in a vehicle accident but found his dream as a performer in “Le Reve.” (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kelly Clinton-Holmes of the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes chats with Kelly Clinton-Holmes, director of the Stirling Club's New Year's Eve entertainment.
Month-by-month entertainment coming in 2019
“True Detective” Season 3, HBO (Jan. 13) Travis Scott, T-Mobile Arena (Feb. 6) Robbie Williams, Encore Theatre at Wynn Las Vegas (March 6, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 16) “Game of Thrones” Season 8, HBO (April) Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas Motor Speedway (May 17-19) “Fiddler on the Roof,” The Smith Center (June 4-9) “The Lion King” (July 19) Psycho Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay (Aug. 16-18) Life is Beautiful, downtown Las Vegas (Sept. 20-22) “Tim Burton @ the Neon Museum” (Oct. 15) “Frozen 2” (Nov. 22) “Star Wars: Episode IX” (Dec. 20)
Lacey Huszcza invites you to find something to love at the Las Vegas Philharmonic
Lacey Huszcza, executive director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic talks about the orchestra's wealth of programming. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gina Marinelli offers La Strega preview
Gina Marinelli used a pop-up New Year’s Eve dinner at Starboard Tack to preview items she’ll feature at her new Summerlin restaurant, La Strega. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Year’s Eve at Sparrow + Wolf
Sparrow + Wolf’s New Year’s Eve party was a sort of official unveiling of its newly renovated space. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Debra Kelleher Of The Stirling Club
Debra Kelleher, DK Hospitality President talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the Stirling Club.
Richard Ditton Of The Stirling Club
Richard Ditton, an investment partner of the Stirling Club talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the club.
NYE at the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes reports from the reopening of the Stirling Club on New Year's Eve 2018.
Michael Stapleton of the Stirling Club
Michael Stapleton, COO of the Stirling Club talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the club.
Recap the Countdown on Fremont Street — VIDEO
Nearly 40,000 people packed Fremont Street to enjoy America's Party Downtown. As the tradition stands, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman counted down the clock on the 3rd Street Stage, alongside her husband and former mayor, Oscar Goodman.
New Year's Eve live from the Las Vegas Strip Bellagio Fountains - Video
Reporter Aaron Drawhorn near the Bellagio Fountains as hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate New Year's Eve in Las Vegas
Ryan Reaves describes the flavors in Training Day beer
Ryan Reaves talks about the flavor of Training Day, the new beer from 7Five Brewing that was launched at the PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves describes his new beer
Golden Knights winger Ryan Reaves talks about his new beer from 7Five Brewing at a launch party at PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas' five biggest NYE concerts
Imagine Dragons at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Lady Gaga at The Park Theater at Park MGM, Maroon 5 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Bruno Mars at T-Mobile Arena, and Tenacious D at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Celebrate New Years Day, Hangover Day and Bloody Mary Day at Cabo Wabo
Celebrate New Years Day, Hangover Day and Bloody Mary Day at Cabo Wabo (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Symon, chef and owner of Mabel's BBQ, talks about his first Las Vegas restaurant
Michael Symon, chef and owner of Mabel's BBQ, talks about his first Las Vegas restaurant. Bizuayehu Tesfaye @bizutesfaye
New American Eagle flagship on the Las Vegas Strip lets you customize your clothing
American Eagle flagship on the Las Vegas Strip lets you customize your clothing
Bellagio Conservatory display is Majestic Holiday Magic
Majestic Holiday Magic at the Bellagio Conservatory
Las Vegas Ready for 2019 NYE Fireworks Show
The city of Las Vegas is ready to celebrate "America's Party" with a new and improved fireworks show that will pay tribute to the Golden Knights.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like