||March 8th, 2007|
by lyle e davis
We’ve just returned from a quick trip to Palm Springs and we wound up asking ourselves the same question . . . “why don’t we go there more often?” It’s only a leisurely two hour drive from North County and there is just something about Palm Springs that makes you want to kick back and relax.
The sun is warm, the atmosphere is full of fun, plenty of good eateries and watering holes, plenty of shopping malls for the ladies . . . and, well, then there’s the Palm Springs Follies.
The Palm Springs Follies are a must-see when you go to Palm Springs. You simply won’t believe your eyes and ears. World class entertainment with singers, dancers, brilliantly choreographed, costumed in the finest money can buy . . . top lighting, music . . . all designed to dazzle and entertain you.
And the entertainers are all between 55 and 80+ years old!
You heard right. All the rumors are true. These are some mighty good lookin’ ladies . . . and the men dancers will cause a ladie’s heart to flutter now and then as well.
All this was the brainstorm of a once young man by the name of Riff Markowitz. He had this crazy idea that people would pay money to come see aging show business stars in a seldom used Plaza Theatre in the middle of Palm Springs. All he had to do was get them in shape, get them costumed, choreographed, arrange for music, lighting, write the show, produce the show, act as master of ceremonies for the show . . . and the public would come.
And they did.
It started out a bit slow . . .but then word spread. Since those early years, over two million patrons have paid perfectly good money to come in and laugh, to sing, to tape their toes, and to applaud . . . often, and loudly.
Riff Markowitz had been a successful television producer. Living in Palm Springs, he had been approached by the city fathers to see if he could come up with some way to breathe life into a rather moribund and unused old Plaza Theatre. The movie house had closed and surely, the city fathers thought, something could be and should be done with it rather than consign it to the wrecking ball.
Riff thought for a bit and then came up with the idea of the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies.
His premise was both simple and brilliant. Bring together veteran show business folk . . . those who not only knew how to sing and dance and present the glitz and glamour of show biz . . . and then to play the music of the show business era from whence they came. Music from the 30’s, 40’s . . . sometimes even the ‘modern’ music of the 50’s. Choreograph it all in such a manner that there was no dead time or space . . . something was always happening . . why, even the intermissions are entertaining . . . voila! It was done.
The public soon responded to this new feature in town. First the locals started to come and check things out. Word spread, and pretty soon the tourists would take in the shows, tell their family and friends about it and slowly a legend was born.
What Flo Ziegfeld had been to show biz in the 1930’s and 40’s, Riff Markowitz had now replaced . . . and, some say, surpassed.
Initially, Markowitz would not only produce and direct the shows but would also act as the master of ceremonies. That has changed. Markowitz is now an integral part of the show. A modern day interlocutor, if you will, much like the maestro of the old vaudeville days who would come out on stage (or in the aisles, he’s not picky) and talk to the audience. His is a folksy manner . . . sometimes curmudgeonly . . . sometimes grandfatherly . . . sometimes with the leer of an old roue’.
He has an easy, relaxed manner, much like that of a family member. He seldom tells jokes . . but has the audience laughing consistently at his observations on life, its foibles and fables.
He transitions the acts smoothly, effortlessly . . . introduces the cast members to the audience, leads the audience into the next segment of the show.
Up to ten shows per week, over 200 shows a season . . . and it’s been like that for 16 years now. All of the cast members were once professional performers who, for different reasons, left the business . . . but answered the call when Riff let it be known he was looking for talent to get out on the boards again and start hoofin’ and singin’ and having just a grand, grand time.
They are back in front of a live audience . . . the footlights are up, the music is cued . . .and they perform! Many of them have been in movies, worked Las Vegas, television, Radio City Music Hall, and the nation’s most prestigious night clubs and, often, on Broadway.
The formula Markowitz uses is simple. Build a show that is lavish in style, grand in scale, emphasize the beauty of of the show’s chorus line, and you have the Palm Springs Follies! It’s a formula he learned by studying the master showman, Flo Ziegfeld (who, not incidentally, Markowitz resembles somewhat).
Perhaps one word sums up the appearance of cast members on the Follies stage.
Costumes that can cost as much as $35,000 each show off the beauty of the chorus girls and dancers. Preparation for the season’s shows begin eighteen months in advance. The finest designers, seamstresses and fitters.
Once showtime begins its hard to imagine not only showgirls who are between 55 and 80+ years who have to change costumes so often and then walk up and down staircases in three inch heels . . . and still have the breath to sing and dance as energetically as they do. They’re like college kids!
It’s not all dancing and singing, however. A true vaudeville flavor is retained as the Follies also presents jugglers, acrobats, trained animal acts, song and dance teams, ventriloquists and magicians. The Follies has incorporated this classic branch of theatrical history into every production.
Currently, the variety acts include the Dancing Gauchos, Martha and Sergio Martinez, who dance flamenco style while whipping about boleadora (a spinning weapon from their native Argentina). Theirs is a fast paced show that keeps the audience amazed at their rapid fire moment and showmanship.
Another variety act that drew gasps from the audience was the husband and wife team of Tatiana and Victor Manjos, who specialize in magic gransormation (or “quick-change”). In a matter of a second or two, Tatiana emerges from behind a drape in a totally different outfit . . . and she repeats this magical transformation frequently, always in a bright new color, often in tight fitting clothes, and always in a matter of a second or two. A similar act made it to the finals in last year’s “America’s Got Talent” tv show.
Each season the Fabulous Follies brings in guest stars who headline the show. Over the years we’ve enjoyed outstanding presentations by major artists - one of the more recent guest stars were the Four Lads singing group (Standing on the Corner, Moments to Remember, Who Needs You, Istanbul, No, Not Much).
The guest artist currently is Gloria Loring, known best for her long running roll on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” and her signature song, “Friends and Lovers.” Loring has become a veteran of show biz at age 60 but she still has a crystal pure voice and makes a masterful presentation of blues standards. She clearly is a crowd favorite.
Put them all together, top talent in dancing, choreography, set design, costuming, singing, supporting variety acts and a guest artist . . . all of which promise to bundle up a host of great memories and bring them all buck front and center and you’ve got it . . . that magic formula that we all know and love today as the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. Well done, Riff Markowitz.