Page last updated at 00:25 GMT, Saturday, 28 March 2009

Folies bows out amid credit crisis

By Claire Prentice
Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas Folies Bergeres
Falling audiences have brought down the curtain on the Folies

For almost half a century Les Folies Bergere has been the risque, high-kicking emblem of America's Sin City. But just months short of its 50th anniversary, the high-camp feather- and sequin-festooned extravaganza is to close.

It is the latest victim of the economic downturn which has seen visitor numbers to Las Vegas plummet in recent months.

Les Folies Bergere opened at the Tropicana Hotel on Christmas Eve 1959 after being imported from Paris, and played to more than 50,000 people a month in its heyday.

The dancers were synonymous with Vegas' famous excess and the mayor often appeared with one Folies showgirl on each arm.

But ticket sales have dropped in recent months, as visitors have stopped coming to a city whose pleasure-loving reputation seems suddenly vulgar in today's straitened times.

The owner of the Tropicana Hotel, which owns the Vegas Les Folies Bergere, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Now, on 28 March, America's most famous troupe of showgirls will hang up their feathered headdresses and rhinestone-studded thongs for the very last time.

The demise of Les Folies Bergere, which outlasted the Rat Pack, Elvis and the Mob, is a harsh blow to Nevada's pleasure capital.

Glamour and glitz

Following the announcement that the curtain is to come down for the last time, fans have been flocking from around the globe to be a part of Las Vegas showbiz history.

Virginia James
There's no point in being sad, it lasted longer than any other show
Virginia James, showgirl

They included Kelly Kaplan and Teresa de Silva who travelled from New York.

Standing in the foyer of the Tropicana Hotel after the performance, Ms Kaplan said: "We were blown away by everything about it. It is so big, colourful, glamorous and sexy."

Ms de Silva added: "It is a taste of old-fashioned glamour. There's nothing like it - the costumes, the dancers, the sets, the glitz."

Also in the audience were Louise and Eric Goldstein who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary by seeing the Folies for the third time.

Mr Goldstein said: "Old Vegas is slowly disappearing. But it will always live on, at least in the memories of those of us old enough to remember the good old days."

Early days

They include Virginia James. She was in the cast for the opening night of Les Folies Bergere in Vegas.

The hotel stopped advertising the show a while back and with the economy as it is, we just couldn't keep on going
Jerry Jackson, Vegas Folies

At home in Las Vegas, the 77-year-old former dancer recalled the whirlwind costume changes, the audiences dripping in diamonds and mink and the excitement she felt as a young dancer rubbing shoulders with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Nat King Cole and Elizabeth Taylor.

"It was a wonderful time and I got to meet everybody famous in the world. There's no point in being sad, it lasted longer than any other show," she said.

When it opened in Nevada, Les Folies Bergere caused a scandal, with its leggy, topless dancers and risque routines.

But though the Folies girls cover up for several child-friendly shows each week these days, nudity has become commonplace on the Strip with the arrival of shows like Cirque de Soleil's Zumanity and Bite in which vampires bare their breasts.

Falling audiences

Jerry Jackson has been creative director and choreographer of the Vegas Folies since 1967.

He took them to perform before the Queen at a Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium in 1989 and was invited to choreograph the 100th anniversary show of the original Folies in Paris.

Mr Jackson wistfully recalled dancers shuffling atop dozens of red pianos, a 1930s Rolls Royce purring onstage, a sumptuous Moulin Rouge set and dozens of hand-stitched £2,000 beaded gowns.

"As the older clientele dies off, there is no-one to replace them - young people don't know what the Folies is. The hotel stopped advertising the show a while back and with the economy as it is, we just couldn't keep on going," he explained.

Final bow

After the show closes, Mr Jackson has been asked to spend six months working with the University of Nevada to create a Folies archive for future generations.

Folies dancer Cari Bryer
Dancer Cari Bryers fears she will face a tough future after the Folies closes

In the dressing room of the Tropicana Hotel, Cari Byers is removing her make up after another gruelling show. The six-foot dancer has been with the Folies since 1998 and is dreading the final curtain call.

"Dancing with the Folies was all I ever wanted to do. I really thought it would go on forever," she said.

She dreams of getting another dancing job but points out that no-one in town is hiring.

The final performance of the Folies, on Saturday night, is for invited guests and will include former dancers, production staff, local dignitaries and celebrities.

Looking back on his career with the Folies, Mr Jackson said: "My only regret is that we couldn't do a big 50th anniversary show. But we'll give it a good send-off. It'll be some party on Saturday night."

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