Folies Bergere originated in Paris, France, in the mid-1800's. As with the famed Lido De Paris at the Stardust, the show was imported to America to grace Las Vegas with its European class and style. The flashy colors, amazing sets, and beautiful topless girls were sure to draw crowds from around the country and world to the newly opened Tropicana Resort and Country Club at the southern most end of what would become The Las Vegas Strip.
Folies Bergere, Las Vegas, NV, 1960
Tropicana's first entertainment director, Lou Walters (Barbara Walter's father), opened the show on December 24, 1959 in the brand new Fountain Theater. The show was an immediate success. The acts and sets were direct from the original Folies Bergere in Paris and the cast included both French and American girls. The show was offered with dinner and cocktails, and the entire cast mingled in the casino and on the grounds after the show, enticing patrons with glamour and sophistication.
In 1975, the show moved to the newly built Tiffany Theater and also broke its creative ties with the original Parisian show. Through special arrangement with the original Folies, the show has been allowed to keep the name, unlike Lido De Paris, which was forced to close when creative/legal ties were cut with Paris. Jerry Jackson took over the production, introducing all new choreography and direction to the show. Mr. Jackson still holds this position today.
Tropicana Marquee: Joseph T. Agosto Presents Folies Bergere (courtesty UNLV)
1975 also brought a classic Vegas mob connection to the show. Joe Agosto, an affiliate of the Kansas City mob syndicate, was installed at the show's manager, in order to get his foot in the door to watch of the Tropicana's skim. Joe Agosto was also the direct courier of all money skimmed and made regular trips to Kansas City to deliver it.
Over the years, the show produced many mainstream celebrities including Bobbie Gentry - one of the first female country artists to write and record her own material, Claudine Longet - popular French singer and wife of Andy Williams, and even Lance Burton, Las Vegas' premier magician, had an act in the show. Feleica Atkins, who holds the record for Folies Showgirl (19 years) and became the face of Folies through the late 50's and 60's, was chosen as Playboy's centerfold for April 1958.
In the late 1980s, the show decided to phase out the 13 piece band and use recorded music to accompany the show. The Musicians Union rejected the phase out plan which included severance packages, and the band went on strike. The show went dark for a week and then on June 25th, 1989, the curtain rose with no band and canned music. It has been this way ever since, and most agree that it cheapened the entire experience.
Under the management of veteran showgirl turned Entertainment Director Elaine Celario, the show has held its own in an ever changing economy and evolving Strip. Costumes are still hand mended and upkeep on set and stage pieces is constant. A mix of classic acts as well as new numbers still entertains crowds nightly.
Unfortunately, and without warning, at the close of the show on January 14th, the cast was informed that Folies would close on March 28th, just short of its 50th anniversary. The closure will mark the end of an era, and the end of the longest running topless show in the United States, leaving Las Vegas with only one classic production show, which has only recently reached its 25th year.
We recently wrote a letter to the new President of Operations at the Tropicana regarding the show closure, and some ideas that we along with other preservationists here in town have had for quite some time for this show. The show will be replaced with a cirque style show, but we hope to at least plant the seed of idea that closing the show is unnecessary and a step in the wrong direction for the long term. You can read it here, if you'd like.