Folies Bergere Stage First Revue – 11/30/1886

History |

Have you ever gone to see a Broadway show or performance and when finished thought to yourself that you could come back and see it all over again? If the show has been around for some time, how is it possible that it has survived for so long without patrons being bored? There are actual performances that have last for months as well as for years; however, can a show survive even for a century?  

The answer would be a definite “yes” and one show in particular first premiered over a century ago! Paris is known for many things as does an arena there known as the Folies Bergere. Once a hall for vaudeville, operettas, political meetings and pantomime; it introduces a complex revue showing women in jaw-dropping costumes. The Folies became the best hotspot in Paris thanks to the extremely popular “Place aux Jeunes.” The Folies kept with the trend of Parisian flavor for striptease while immediately having the reputation for sensational nude performances during the 1890s. Expenses were not an issue as the theater set up revues that displayed as many as 1,000 costumes, 40 sets and roughly 200 people that were off-stage crew.

The birth of the Folies Bergere takes place back in 1869 when started as one of the original important music halls in Paris. It displayed light pantomimes and opera with unfamiliar singers; it ultimately was a failure. When the Folies Bergere showed vaudeville in the 1870s, greater success soon followed. The beginning vaudeville performances had many performers including the world’s tallest man, acrobats, trained elephants, a snake charmer, a boxing kangaroo and a Greek prince; he had tattoos all over his body supposedly as punishment for attempting to seduce the daughter of the Shah of Persia. The audience was permitted to drink and converse in the theater’s promenade area and indoor garden; the Folies Bergere became associated with the French capital’s carnal temptations. Also appearing in the Folies were well-known paintings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Edouard Manet.

The Folies Bergere went under new ownership and presented the original revue-style music hall performance on November 30th, 1886. Featuring scantily clad chorus girls, the “Place aux Jeunes” was extremely successful. With the 20th century approaching, the female performers wore less and less while the sets and costumes became more and more spectacular. The Folies Bergere enabled many performers to get their first break which included Mistinguett, Yvette Guilbert and Maurice Chevalier. The singer and African American dancer Josephine Baker made her first appearance there in 1926 as she descended from the ceiling wearing a flower-covered sphere that appeared onstage to show Baker wearing a G-string ornamented with bananas.

Throughout the 20th century and can still be seen today, the Folies Bergere continues to be successful; the theater at present shows many mainstreamed performances and concerts. Dating back over a century ago, among other traditions the show’s title has 13 letters as well as including the name “Folie.”

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Edward Arroyo

Writer

Edward attended college at Northwestern University where he received his bachelors in journalism. After graduation he spent the next several years traveling the world writing about his experiences on his own personal blog. His hobbies include travel, photography, bicycling and hanging out with his dog Milo.