Final curtain for Vegas showgirls

Economic slump brings Folies Bergere to an end
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The Independent US

For almost half a century, they've been doing the cancan, but now, as a local comedy headliner might quip, they can't. The high-kicking dancers of Les Folies Bergere in Las Vegas, who turned the showgirl into a quintessential symbol of Sin City, are the latest cultural institution to fall victim to the economic slump.

On Saturday, nine months short of its 50th birthday, the Tropicana Resort and Casino will pull the plug on the long-running stage show, blaming falling box-office receipts. The decision will force almost 100 dancers to hang up their feathered headdresses and rhinestone thongs for the last time.

During its heyday, Les Folies Bergere would attract rat pack stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Developed from the show of the same name in Paris, it was considered highly daring, because it featured some of Vegas's first topless dancers. But the future has been in doubt ever since Tropicana Entertainment, which owns the hotel, filed for bankruptcy protection last May. It is one of several Vegas hotel firms facing financial pressure following the downturn, which led to a decline in local gaming revenues of 23 per cent in December.

"Because of the financial climate, business is very off in Vegas," said Jerry Jackson, who has directed the Folies since 1975. "I've been working in Vegas since the 1950s, and I've never seen it so sparse. I saw the writing on the wall. I would rather it close than continually try to create without any funds. I've been able to do it for years, but I think I've recycled everything in that hotel but the silverware. I don't know what else I can do. I have taken stones off old costumes and had them sewn on to new costumes or new fabric. But you can only do so much."

In a town where bulldozing history is a daily ritual, and locals like to joke that the state bird is a crane, even the closure of a long-running local fixture – which is the oldest stage show in the US – wouldn't normally bring much more than a shrug of the shoulders. But these are hard times for Las Vegas, which has some of America's highest foreclosure rates, together with an unemployment rate of about 10 per cent. The loss of a show representing the resort's golden era has sparked widespread dismay.

Occupancy rates for the city's massive hotels, which rely on a steady stream of free-spending visitors at weekends and corporate conference-goers during the week, have fallen below 70 per cent from their long-term average of 90 per cent. Several major events have been scaled down or cancelled. Last week Kirk Kerkorian, the billionaire who owns the MGM Mirage casino company, revealed that his firm may be forced to breach its financial covenants if market conditions don't improve this year.