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  • "Here's to the beautiful ladies,
    Here's to those wonderful girls.
    Dorothy and Glenda, Jills, Joni and Judy,
    Leila, Natascha, Trina and Wendy.
    You'll find them all in the Palm Springs Follies.
    Here's to the silks and the satin,
    Here's to the diamonds and pearls.
    This is the mixture to start the picture,
    So bring on the beautiful girls..."

    Adapted from "Here's to the Girls" by Arthur Freed and Roger Edens [Ziegfeld Follies]

    Palm Springs, CA - There is quite the respected org called Career Transitions for Dancers, with branches in New York and Los Angeles, whose mission is the help dancers find income-producing opportunities when they can no longer dance. It does magnificent work assisting in reeducating thousands of hoofers into new careers.

    Some hoofers, like Chita Rivera, or as evidenced in Palm Springs, CA - Dorothy Kloss, age 84, or Dick France, age 78, for example - don't need any transitioning. They're still out there going, going, going like that TV battery bunny and kicking up their legs, doing strenuous routines and swinging to a ragtime, jazz, Latin, be bop and doo wop beat.

    The proof is right downtown where the 17th Edition of the Fabulous Follies, Tin Pan Alley, is holding strong and attracting sold out houses. The ages of the female and male ensemble of this now world famous revue, range from 59 - 84. If that doesn't surprise you, what they are still capable of will.


    The company of 17, highlighted by the FF's legendary ensemble of elegant "long-legged lovelies," prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what the prophetic Billie Burke uttered while she was the first Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld [she was later the Good Witch in Wizard of Oz and had many more memorable roles], "Age doesn't matter unless you're a cheese."

    These veteran of numerous Broadway and movie musicals; Vegas, Latin Quarter and Lido spectaculars; and posh niteries the world over are keeping the spirit of the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's alive. In the process, they're keeping fit - all are in the type of shape that the majority of people that age and even younger only dream of.

    And don't believe those stories about vaudeville being dead. It's certainly alive and well in this fabled desert resort of the rich and famous. Hundreds of busloads of visitors keep the FF SRO through its end of October through middle of May season. And audiences return year after year.

    In addition to the spectacularly costumed numbers, with brilliantly colorful razzle-dazzled feathered costumes and gigantic headdresses created by top-of-the-line Vegas costume shops, there's the variety aspect of the Follies. Each edition has rotating guest stars. For two months, ending New Year's Eve, Broadway and TV veteran Kaye Ballard, a very young 82 who is still known for her numerous appearances on the Tonight Show, had audiences in stitches with her bright, quick-witted comedy and songs, which ranged from poignant, such as "This Is My Life" and "As I Remember Him," to funny, such as "Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love."

    Her appearance was a "homecoming" - not only a return to her vaudeville roots but also her first return since Season 14. Though it had only been three years, from the thunderous applause and standing ovations, maybe it was too long a wait to come back.


    The Four Aces are guesting through February 9, with Melba Moore and Anna Maria Alberghetti to follow. Appearing alongside the star spots are the type of variety acts Ed Sullivan brought to TV on Sunday nights in his Toast of the Town or those you may have seen in a circus.

    Unlike Miss Ballard, who is a year-round area resident, with a home on Kaye Ballard Lane, no less, most of the dance/vocal ensemble come to audition and if they get the job are housed locally for the season.

    The Follies is celebrating the Golden Age of American popular music: songs by Porter, Berlin, Gershwin and numerous others. These are the tunes - "Alexander's Ragtime Band, "Anchors Aweigh," '"Don't Fence Me In," "Fascinating Rhythm," "I'll Be Seeing You," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," "We'll Meet Again,"- the majority onstage and in the audience heard and played while they made love, worked, went to war and came home to.

    It's not at all unusual to see women - and a couple of men - tear up. Many of the show's elements bring out the emotion and nostalgia for a time long gone by. This is especially true in the Stars and Stripes Forever sequence, where the flag is flown with an authentic Marine honor guard and members of the military, past and present, are asked by Markowitz to stand. They proudly salute the flag and audiences warmly pay tribute.

    Something you rarely do fine at the FF, though, are audience members under 20. But in another 20 years, they'll be regulars.

    The Follies is staged and choreographed by former Vegas showgirl Joan Palethorpe. Tap choreography is by Cari Burbank Glen. The colorfully sparkling costumes are designed by Thi Thu Hanyak and Michael Rennie. John Greenberger is the scenic designer. Johnny Harris arranges the music and performs on the pre-recorded tracks.


    The show is written and directed by the elegant, albeit shameless, co-founder, Riff Markowitz, who's also master of ceremonies. A former circus clown and host of children's TV programs, he's celebrating six decades in show business and has presided over and performed in more than 3,500 Follies shows without missing a performance.

    Markowitz produced hundreds TV shows here and in Canada and helped develop Cleveland's Magnetic North TV post-production studios. He was also instrumental in bringing pay-television to Canada. Then he sold his business and retired to Palm Springs.

    The Plaza Theatre opened in 1936. In addition to showing films, there were radio broadcasts by Bob Hope, who eventually built one of the cities tourist attractions [his mountain top home], and Jack Benny. Each year, the Village Vanities, a revue to raise money for charities, was presented. Eventually, there were shows by Gordon MacRae, Donald O'Connor and, among others, Sinatra.


    The theatre didn't escape the cineplex craze and eventually was twined. With the passage of time, as people turned to other types of entertainment, interest in movies dwindled. It closed in 1987 and sat empty four years. That's when Markowitz and Mary Jardin had an idea to put on a show with older performers who could still kick and sparkle in an area filled with retirees; and, voila!, the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies was born.

    "People said we were crazy," explained Markowitz. "They asked, 'Who's going to pay to see old ladies' legs?' They couldn't have been more wrong. The public took the show to its heart and today, nearly three-million patrons later, the Follies has gained a worldwide reputation for glamour and excitement>"

    Its success spawned imitators, all of which bit the dust. The show has been the subject of innumerable magazine and newspaper articles and plays to packed houses at every performance - up to ten shows a week. The film, Still Kicking: The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies was nominated for a 1997 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. In short, it's quite the phenomenon.

    Follies performances run an average of three hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions. Even with the incredible zest of the performers, the lavish costumes and great singing and dancing, that is a half hour to an hour too long, especially considering the age of the average audience member.

    As entertaining as the majority of sequences are, they begin to get repetitious into the third hour, no fault of the ab fab cast. However, what they do and how they do it on a stage that can in no way be compared to Radio City Music Hall's, is astonishing.


    Stil, some judicious tightening and trims could easily be accomplished, but don't tell that to Mr. Markowitz. It's his show and he does it the way he wants. In fact, as one of the company members noted, "He controls everything. You can't even change your sex without telling him."

    I hate to say this, because Markowitz has accomplished what very few have been able to do: revive vaudeville, and spectacularly so; and he's a genial host with a hilarious, if often ribald, sense of humor, but there's just a little too much of him. However, please don't tell him you read that here.

    Each season's FF contains 1,500 individual costumes, with some reaching to eleven feet in diameter and cost up to $35,000 each. Twelve backstage dressers are required to assist with the changes, which can be as short as 75 seconds.

    The Follies has a staff of over 145 people, including an aggressive marketing department, making it one of the largest area employers.

    The FF holds two Guinness World Records: World's Oldest Professional Chorus Line and World's Oldest Still Performing Showgirl, Dorothy Kloss. Among her treasury of memories is the fact that she taught Bob Fosse!

    The show is dark on Mondays and some Tuesdays, with some breaks during end-of-year holiday season. Matinees are at 1:30 with evening performances at 7. Tickets are $48 - $90 and may be reserved and purchased online at www.psfollies.com, where you will find a wealth of info including seating charts and bonuses connected with higher-priced seats.

    Palm Springs as Tourist Destination

    The Fabulous Follies is an interesting juxtaposition in Palm Springs, since the 20s the playground and seasonal home of the hip, rich and famous. It and surrounding cities of Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert are set against the San Jacinto Mountains smack dab in desert, where the sand eventually gives way to palm trees and mansions. Summers can be blisteringly hot; winters, quite comfortable. Rain is rarely forecast; but there can be tremendous sand storms because of periodic extremely high winds.

    Astaire, Gene Autry, Benny, Claudette Colbert, Kirk Douglas, President Gerald Ford, Garbo, Grant, William Holden, Jolson, Elvis, Liberace, Ann Miller, Elvis, Rogers, Liz, Dinah, Gloria Swanson, Streisand and Tracy had or have homes - many of them in the fabled Las Palmas neighborhood close in to downtown.


    One of the most most gawked at homes is John Lautner's expansive hilltop "flying saucer," started in 1973 and opened in 1979 for Bob and Dolores Hope on Southridge Drive [it was used in the Bond film Diamonds Are Forever]. It can be seen for miles, especially when lit at night. Parties at the home can accommodate up to 300 people. Palm Springs, of course, is also the home of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which just ended last week.

    There's no shortage of things to do in and around Palm Springs. Besides the Follies, one of the major tourist attractions is the tram which soars you to majestic heights for awesome sights. Then there is golf and gaming at several Indian casinos.

    Among the numerous day trip options are Josusha Tree National Park with its impressive array of gigantic rock formations; the Salton Sea, California's largest lake and one that's 227 feet below sea level [also a birdwatchers' paradise with 400 species of resident and migratory birds - everything from pelicans and Yuma clapper rails to black skimmers, gull-billed terns and ducks], Lake Arrowhead; and Big Bear Lake with awesome scenery on the drive up and the descent.

    The politics of Palm Springs may be ultra-conservative, but there's nothing conservative about lifestyles. Along with the many retirees who've chosen to live in the various communities, it's a swinging vacation spot with a large number of clothing optional resorts [really, nothing more than sex clubs] for gays and straights.

    Glitz at the Palm Springs International Film Festival

    The stars came out in such force for the just-ended 19th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival that you might have thought the Golden Globes had been moved from Hollywood to this hip sand pit. The very much pregnant Halle Berry, John Travolta, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch, Helen Hunt, Laura Linney, Drew Barrymore, Ellen Page and Allison Janney were among the stellar names on the Cartier red carpet. They were joined by Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

    The Fest featured an amazing roster of 222 films, culled from more than 66 countries from January 3 - 14. There were four world premieres, 40 U.S. premieres and 25 North American. Fifty-five of the 63 films submitted for consideration for the 2008 Oscar Best Foreign Language Film category were screened. Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart returned to host the awards.

    U.S. films included the Fest opener Then She Found Me, written and directed by Helen Hunt and starring Hunt, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth and Lynn Cohen, and Autism: The Musical, which took Audience Awards. Armin [Germany] was voted Best Foreign Language Film.

    Berry and Day-Lewis received the prestigious Desert Palm Achievement Award. Penn was named Director of the Year. Atonement director Joe Wright was the recipient of Sonny Bono Visionary Award [the late entertainer and U.S. Senator was the Festival founder].

    Marion Cotillard received the Breakthrough Performance Award for her role as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. Hirsch [Into the Wild] and Nikki Blonsky [Hairspray] were presented Rising Star Awards. Writer/director Diablo Cody's Juno received the Chairman's Vanguard Award.

    The closing film was Priceless [France/Samuel Goldwyn Films], a romantic comedy filled with glitz and nexpected plot reversals. Audrey Tautou was top-billed, with Pierre Salvadori directing. Special presentations included an outdoor sing-along screening of Hairspray.

    Meanwhile, Back East ~ Save the Dates:

    The Theatre Hall of Fame inductions take place on January 28 in the rotunda of the Gershwin Theatre. The 2007 inductees, as voted on by the American Theatre Critics Association, are Tony and Drama Desk winner John Cullum, Tony and DD winner Harvey Fierstein, DD winner Dana Ivey, Lois Smith, Tony and DD-winning director Jack O'Brien, Tony and DD-winning playwright Peter Shaffer and Tony and DD-winning librettist Joseph Stein. Mel Gussow, author, New York Times theater critic and champion of Off Bway, Mel Gussow will be inducted posthumously. Producing is Terry Hodge Taylor of the THOF.


    Scott Siegel [Bway by the Year, Bway Unplugged] will present the just-announced winners of the 2008 Nightlife Awards at Town Hall January 28 at 7 P.M. This is one awards event where there are no acceptance speeches. The winners, announced on the 9th, sing for their honor. Bruce Vilanch will host. Among those on hand will be Lucie Arnaz, Charles Busch, Anat Cohen, Tony-winnerJoanna Gleason, Julie Halston, Tony-winner Bill Irwin, Marilyn Maye and three-time Grammy-winner Lari White. Tickets are $25 - $75 and available at the Town Hall box office, by calling (212) 307-4100 or at www.ticketmaster.com and Ticketmaster locations.

    After two years in the making, a new CD of Brian Gari's 20th anniversary edition Late Nite Comic score will be launched January 28 at 7 P.M. at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble. This coincides with Gari's recently published We Bombed In New London - the Inside Story of the Broadway musical Late Nite Comic [Bear Manor Media, SRP $20]. Guests, in the third floor event space, will include Liz Larsen, Luba Mason, Seth Rudetsky and Martin Vidnovic. Proceeds benefit the Actors Fund. The 23-track CD [Original Cast Records, SRP $15] includes the score as heard opening night and deleted songs. A Who's Who of Broadway and show business perform, including Liz Callaway, Mario Cantone, Jason Graae, Rupert Holmes, Brian D'Arcy James, Howard McGillin, Daniel Reichard, Tony Roberts, Seth Rudetsky, Mary Testa, Martin Vidnovic, Karen Ziemba and Chip Zien. With so much going on January 28 and with this CD destined to be a collectors' item, call B&N to reserve an autographed copy.

    Kids' Night on Broadway, with Rosie O'Donnell serving as national ambassador, takes places February 5 and 6 and 12 and 13. Kids, ages six to 18 can attend a Broadway show for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. There are all sorts of fun pre-show events plus discounts on dining and parking. For participating shows and more information, visit www.KidsNightOnBroadway.com.


    City Center's 2008 Encores! season kicks off February 7 - 10 with Christine Ebersole starring as Margo Channing in Applause, the 1970 stage adaptation of the classic film All About Eve by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams with a Comden and Green book. Kathleen Marshall is directing and choreographing. Tony and Drama Desk winner Victoria Clark follows March 27 - 30 with Juno, which had a short-lived Broadway run in 1959. It's adapted by Joseph Stein [of Fiddler fame] from Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. The score is by Marc Blitzstein. Tony-winner Garry Hynes [Beauty Queen of Leenane] will direct. No, No, Nanette, book by Burt Shevelove and songs by Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach, will be presented May 8-12. Walter Bobbie will direct. Sandy Duncan, Tony winner Beth Leavel and Rosie O'Donnell co-star with Mara Davi as Nanette. Tickets are $25 - $95 and available at the City Center box office, by calling (212) 581-1212 or online at www.nycitycenter.org. Subscriptions are $120 - $270.

    Pavarotti will be remembered at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall on February 14 at 8 P.M. Among those appearing in For Luciano Pavarotti - with Love are Bolshoi soprano Anna Aglatova and tenor Badri Maisuradze; La Scala soprano Daniela Bruera and baritone Lucio Gallo; and Rome Opera mezzo Katarina Nikolic. Marilyn Horne will be among those remembering the late, celebrated tenor. Regular tickets are $35-$100 and are available at the Fisher box office, through Center Charge at (212) 721-6500 and online at www.lincolncenter.org. Friend contributions of $350 or more include the post-performance reception; and Patron contributions of $1,200 or more include the reception and the January 25 gala at the Russian Consulate honoring soprano Deborah Voigt.

    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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