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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day.

(Soundbite of song "Viva Las Vegas")

Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Viva Las Vegas...

BRAND: Four years ago, I reported on the 100th anniversary of Las Vegas for this show. I went searching for Vegas' history buried under the rubble of blown-up hotels.

Mayor OSCAR GOODMAN (Democrat, Las Vegas, Nevada): I represent the history of Las Vegas.

BRAND: I met Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. Mayor Goodman represents the history of Vegas in a few ways: He's a former mob lawyer who travels with an Elvis impersonator and a showgirl. And I interviewed an Elvis impersonator for that story.

Unidentified Elvis Impersonator: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Elvis Impersonator: Thank you very much.

BRAND: But I never got around to...

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: The showgirl, tall, leggy, the perfect hanger for rhinestone costumes and feathered headpieces. Well, it just so happens that the longest running showgirl review on the Strip is closing its doors at the end of March, just a few days after our last show here at Day to Day. So, we find it would be a good time to revisit Vegas history with my producer for that Vegas story that I did four years ago. She's also a wannabe showgirl. Her name? Shereen Meraji.

(Soundbite of bulldozer)

SHEREEN MERAJI: I started research for this story at the Nevada State Museum. There were just a handful of cars and two bulldozers kicking up dust across the parking lot. Welcome to Las Vegas, where bulldozing over history is a pastime and locals joke that their state bird is a crane. My museum guide, former showgirl, Lou Anne Chessik.

Ms. LOU ANNE CHESSIK (Former Showgirl): I'm six feet tall, and so, when I started out, I wanted to be a ballerina. The ballet mistress said, Lou Anne, you're too tall for a ballerina. You really need to branch out.

MERAJI: So, in '79, Lou Anne drove to Vegas and the rest is, well, you know.

You're in Birkenstocks. There's a showgirl in Birkenstocks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHESSIK: My feet are so trashed from wearing heels. We dance in two-and-a-half inch heels with those big headpieces. And for - you know, I danced in shows from 1979 to 1991, and my feet just can't do heels anymore.

MERAJI: Now she works in sensible shoes to keep the image of the showgirl from fading away. In the museum's front hallway, adjacent to a 13-foot mammoth skeleton, you can visit the showgirl art exhibit that Lou Anne produced.

Ms. CHESSIK: There was a really an art to it and we're losing it. You know, we're losing the icon because, really, wasn't the showgirl the icon of Las Vegas?

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Announcer: Good evening. Welcome to the Tropicana Resort & Casino and to the world famous Folies Bergere. Now, as incredible as this may seem, we are in our 49th year here at the Tropicana, which makes us the longest running show in U.S. history.

(Soundbite of applause)

MERAJI: The Folies Bergere is not just the longest running showgirl review in U.S. history, but the longest running show, period.

(Soundbite of music)

MERAJI: And on Super Bowl weekend, a busy one for Vegas, the showroom is only half full. Maybe 100 people are crowded toward the front of the theater. Jerry Jackson has been directing and choreographing the show for 42 years. He recently celebrated his 73rd birthday.

Mr. JERRY JACKSON (Choreographer and Director, Les Folies Bergere, Tropicana Resort & Casino): This year, in December would have been our 50th anniversary. But because of the financial climate of the times, you know, business is very off in Vegas.

MERAJI: The Tropicana can't afford to produce the Folies Bergere. So, the finale is March 28. Jean and Herman Reynolds drove from Utah to catch the show one last time.

Ms. JEAN REYNOLDS: We came to see the Folies about 40-some years ago, and when we read on the Internet that this was their last year, we decided to drive over.

MERAJI: What do you remember about the show?

Ms. REYNOLD: Herman probably remembers the boobs flying all over, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "High Hopes")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Ooh, baby...

MERAJI: The Folies Bergere opened at the Tropicana in 1959. According to Jerry, back then, you could find a showgirl review in the fanciest hotels on the strip. Showgirls and big-name talent were the draws of the time.

Mr. JACKSON: You could go see Frank Sinatra for a two-drink minimum or Lena Horne or Tony Bennett, any of these stars, and a two-drink minimum meant $4 to $5.

(Soundbite of song "High Hopes")

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) Oops, there goes a billion kilowatt dam...

MERAJI: Before he was a choreographer in Vegas, Jerry was a professional dancer on "The Danny Kaye Show," in movies. He partnered Cyd Charisse on TV. Jerry started choreographing for the Folies at the Tropicana in 1966. Audience has loved the show because he kept it fresh.

Mr. JACKSON: I went out dancing every night. The Bugalu, the Watusi, the Frug, you know, the Swim, whatever it was, you know, I was out there doing it.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) We'll have a good time, Leave your troubles behind...

MERAJI: But the Folies Bergere hasn't been totally revamped since '97, and to be honest, there are parts that look dated. The show has tried to keep up with the times, but it's proven difficult, due to lack of marketing and competition from high-concept acrobatic shows like Cirque du Soleil's "Zumanity." Karen Marantic(ph) has been dancing with the Folies for 15 years and thinks the show should stick to what it knows best - classy Vegas - and market itself as a retroact.

Ms. KAREN MARANTIC (Dancer, Folies Bergere): If we had a better chance of getting ourselves out there again and reminding people what Vegas, you know, is really about or at least what it used to be about, I think it would really help the show along.

MERAJI: And Jerry has plenty of ideas about how to improve the Folies so that it can compete with the Cirque shows that dominate the strip.

Mr. JACKSON: When I sound them out to people, they say, oh, my God, if we only had the money for that, because I can do a summer scene with a waterfall on stage and have swimmers dive into the water and have it reflected in an overhead mirror so people can see the swimming and the different patterns, and then, I can have it start snowing and...

MERAJI: But unless there's a windfall of money soon, that waterfall will remain a fantasy and dancers like Karen Marantic will be out of a job. After March 28, the only place to see a Folies Bergere showgirl will be in the front hallway of the Nevada State Museum, right next to those imperial mammoth remains.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Announcer: Thank you for coming to our show, ladies and gentleman. Until next time, bonsoir and goodbye, from all of us here at Les Folies Bergere.

MERAJI: From NPR News, I'm Shereen Meraji.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

BRAND: OK. That was a great radio piece, a great audio piece, but you know you want to see some images of the showgirls. You can do that, images of the showgirls through the ages, go to npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com.

Unidentified Elvis Impersonator: Thank you very much.

BRAND: We'll be here all week. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen.

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