Author Post: The Cabaret Cocktail: An Elaborate Concoction of Seduction, Fantasy, and Spectacle

Author Post:  The Cabaret Cocktail: An Elaborate Concoction of Seduction, Fantasy, and Spectacle
Written by Karan Feder, author of The Folies Bergere in Las Vegas
 
 This photograph captures the Venetian-style curtain coming down on the Fountain Theatre Stage at the Hotel Tropicana during the 1961edition of the Folies Bergere. (Courtesy of Don English/Las Vegas News Bureau.)

This photograph captures the Venetian-style curtain coming down on the Fountain Theatre Stage at the Hotel Tropicana during the 1961edition of the Folies Bergere. (Courtesy of Don English/Las Vegas News Bureau.)
 


The traditional French cabaret show adheres to a timeless formula that includes elaborate and visually resplendent numbers featuring male and female dancers, singers, leggy showgirls, and amazing acrobats. Incorporated between the extravagant song and dance production numbers are curious and highly polished specialty acts and novelty numbers featuring vaudevillians, comedians, and circus performers. Within the cabaret canon is a touch of the risqué, a hint of the exotic, a surplus of glamour, and a deficit of narrative.
 

The unique costumes of the cabaret stage rely on a keen calculation regarding the covered and uncovered bits. The intent is to adorn the female form rather than to simply reveal it. Seduction and titillation without offense require a fine-tuned eye and hand. When designing for this genre, less isn’t always more and cabaret costumes are typically quite elaborate with various parts and pieces making up the complete and spectacular costume ensemble. The complexity and scale of these costumes require that the performers have assistance from one or more wardrobe department “dressers” to get into and out of each scene’s costume.
 

A reliable device employed in the composition of cabaret costumes is the exploitation of visually significant historic fashion trends. Quintessential fashionable silhouettes associated with specific time periods are inherently ripe for caricature on the stage. As an example, a favorite historic era of the Folies Bergere was 18th-century France. The enormous gowns, towering hairdos, and excessive decoration that defined the era are easily exaggerated and distorted to suit the spectacle of the cabaret theatre stage.
 

Folies Bergere creative director and costume designer Michel Gyarmathy was an expert at conceiving these abstract and mock historic scenes. The French royal court at the Palace of Versailles, a spirited Tyrolean village, a 19th-century Viennese ballroom, a European gypsy caravan, and a medieval cathedral wedding were just a few of the fantasy scenarios devised by Gyarmathy for the Folies Bergere stage.



This showgirl is pictured in 1968 during the Folies Bergere finale number titled “Lumières de Paris.” The Las Vegas Sun newspaper describes the 1968 edition of the Folies Bergere as a “dazzler” and “a contrived pastiche of richly costumed men and women.” (Courtesy of John Cook/Las Vegas News Bureau.)

This showgirl is pictured in 1968 during the Folies Bergere finale number titled “Lumières de Paris.” The Las Vegas Sun newspaper describes the 1968 edition of the Folies Bergere as a “dazzler” and “a contrived pastiche of richly costumed men and women.” (Courtesy of John Cook/Las Vegas News Bureau.)



 
“Une Nuit à Versailles” is the title of a scene from the 1980 “revision-edition” of the Folies Bergere that imagined the life of Marie Antoinette, the queen of France, during an evening with the royal court at the Palace of Versailles. The immense costume seen in this photograph measures nearly nine feet in width. With eight of this type of costume onstage at once, Folies Bergere creative director Jerry Jackson jokes that the proceedings backstage were as entertaining, if not more so, than the onstage performance. Thwarting collision between members of the dressed cast required meticulous choreography that was especially crucial during performers’ entrances and exits. Seen in the front row of this photograph are, from left to right, Aleco Balsas, Terri Martin, William Garbett III, and Lydia Farrington-Jenkins. (Courtesy of UNLV Libraries Special Collections.)

“Une Nuit à Versailles” is the title of a scene from the 1980 “revision-edition” of the Folies Bergere
that imagined the life of Marie Antoinette, the queen of France, during an evening with the
royal court at the Palace of Versailles. The immense costume seen in this photograph measures nearly nine feet in width. With eight of this type of costume onstage at once, Folies Bergere creative director Jerry Jackson jokes that the proceedings backstage were as entertaining, if not more so, than the onstage performance. Thwarting collision between members of the dressed cast required meticulous choreography that was especially crucial during performers’ entrances and exits. Seen in the front row of this photograph are, from left to right, Aleco Balsas, Terri Martin, William Garbett III, and Lydia Farrington-Jenkins. (Courtesy of UNLV Libraries Special Collections.)



 
This photograph dates from the 1971 edition and features Carolynn Everette as seen in the number titled “Reception Chez Napoleon III.” Her costume, including the impressive “pouf” headdress, was designed by Michel Gyarmathy and represents a reliable theme employed in the cabaret genre that exploits visually significant historical fashion trends. A favorite historic era of the Folies Bergere was 18th-century France. The show’s various creative teams staged acts depicting the French royal court at the Palace of Versailles in at least three separate editions of the production. (Courtesy of Gary Angell/Las Vegas News Bureau.)

This photograph dates from the 1971 edition and features Carolynn Everette as seen in the number titled “Reception Chez Napoleon III.” Her costume, including the impressive “pouf” headdress, was designed by Michel Gyarmathy and represents a reliable theme employed in the cabaret genre that exploits visually significant historical fashion trends. A favorite historic era of the Folies Bergere was 18th-century France. The show’s various creative teams staged acts depicting the French royal court at the Palace of Versailles in at least three separate editions of the production. (Courtesy of Gary Angell/Las Vegas News Bureau.)
 




Michel Gyarmathy’s Tyrolean folk costumes and set backdrops for “Marriage au Tyrol” were charming and convincing adaptations of the traditional. Showgirl Fabiola is pictured in 1969 and costumed as the Tyrolean bride; at left is singer Bill De Bell. (Courtesy of John Cook/Las Vegas News Bureau.)

Michel Gyarmathy’s Tyrolean folk costumes and set backdrops for “Marriage au Tyrol” were charming and convincing adaptations of the traditional. Showgirl Fabiola is pictured in 1969 and costumed as the Tyrolean bride; at left is singer Bill De Bell. (Courtesy of John Cook/Las Vegas News Bureau.)
 




This image was taken in 1972 during the scene titled “Cathedrale” and features principal performer Carolynn Everette (center) wearing a magnificent Gothic character costume designed by Michel Gyarmathy. Set pieces inspired by the stained-glass window designs of French cathedrals completed this fantasy set in the middle ages. The scene cleverly injected a note of piety into an otherwise sensual presentation. Such witty absurdities are inherent to the spirit of the musical revue. Gyarmathy describes the foundational template for every edition of the Folies Bergere as “Always a cocktail: something sweet, something sour, something strong, and something effervescent.” (Courtesy of John Cook/Las Vegas News Bureau.)

This image was taken in 1972 during the scene titled “Cathedrale” and features principal performer Carolynn Everette (center) wearing a magnificent Gothic character costume designed by Michel Gyarmathy. Set pieces inspired by the stained-glass window designs of French cathedrals completed this fantasy set in the middle ages. The scene cleverly injected a note of piety into an otherwise sensual presentation. Such witty absurdities are inherent to the spirit of the musical revue. Gyarmathy describes the foundational template for every edition of the Folies Bergere as “Always a cocktail: something sweet, something sour, something strong, and something effervescent.” (Courtesy of John Cook/Las Vegas News Bureau.)
 
 
 
 
The Folies Bergere in Las Vegas is the first publication of its kind to focus exclusively on the American Folies Bergere. The book provides a behind-the-curtain look at the individuals who brought life to Las Vegas's longest-running musical revue stage show. The Folies Bergere in Las Vegas features many never-before-seen photographs, costume design renderings, and fascinating documents from local archives and the alumni of the Folies Bergere.




About the Author

Feathers, fishnets, and fans get their due glory from author Karan Feder, who spearheaded the initiative to preserve the surviving Folies Bergere costume collection. Feder serves as the guest curator of costume and textiles at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, and is a leading expert in the field of entertainment costume history, preservation, and exhibition.
 
Posted: 11/13/2017 12:00:00 AM| with 2 comments


Comments
Comments
famefarmdesign@gmail.com
Michael-Thank you for your comment! Yes, the two surviving Folies Bergere wig-headdresses ("poufs") at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas are oddly wonderful. I was fortunate to meet a showgirl who shared her memories of wearing this costume on the Folies Bergere stage in the early 1980s.
11/15/2017 3:55:03 AM

Michael@FameFarm.com
I saw one of these "pouf" headdresses on display at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas. It was amazing and about 4 feet in height. Seeing it in person was both fascinating and valuable. It's hard to imagine that the performers were able to wear this huge costume piece with graceful effortless ease...
11/14/2017 6:37:18 PM