“Life is a Cabaret, old chum” : Putting a Feather in your Cap in Paris
Sally Bowles, aka Liza Minelli, famously urged us all in best carpe diem style to put down our knitting, the book and the broom to come hear the music play – and where better place to do so than during a stay in the heart of cabaret land. Paris may be famous for Food, Fashion and the French Revolution, but it is also synonymous with Love, the Louvre and those long legs kicking out the iconic Can-can routine. Here’s the lowdown on what the three best-known spectacles have in common – and what makes each one unique.
Le Moulin Rouge
The most widely-recognised show, and the best family option, is of course the Moulin Rouge. Who can forget Baz Lurhmann’s film with Nicole Kidman shimmying her way down from the ceiling on a trapeze, breathily singing ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’? This cabaret with its distinctive red windmill is situated at the very foot of Montmartre in the heart of the infamous red light district. Established way back in 1889, it was originally created by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler to give people from all different classes and walks of life an opportunity to interact.
Nicknamed ‘Women’s First Palace’ (Le Premier Palais des Femmes), its main claim to fame, alongside the free-flowing champagne, was the revolutionary design of a stage that allowed for rapid scene changes that are still a focus of the show today. The inspiration of the Belle-Époque artists living in Montmartre at the turn of the century can still be seen: as you enter the spacious plush red-bedecked theatre, hints of Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir are everywhere and the atmosphere has retained the same lively spirit of days gone by.
The term “Can-can” was actually coined in London, but while the prudish Brits struggled to accept the indecent appearance of a ritualized dance involving girls performing the splits, with all that frilly lace revealing titillating bits of bare skin, over in France the dazzling new show was taking Paris by storm. At the time of its creation women’s bodies were very rarely revealed in private, and certainly not to a public audience, so the introduction of these risqué shows was an immediate hit. A number of talented young ladies became overnight sensations, and Louise Weber, known by her stage name La Goulue, was to become Toulouse-Lautrec’s muse and has subsequently been immortalised by his paintbrush.
There are two evening shows at the Moulin Rouge every day of the year, aptly named Féerie or Fairy, which take the audience on a chimerical voyage complete with pirates, circus performers and even a Gorgon! You can whet your appetites by watching the short video on the Moulin Rouge website – yes, those are real snakes. This show features 80 dancers, including 60 Doriss Girls (the ladies who perform the Can-can), showing off over 1,000 costumes and a world of glitter, sequins, rhinestones and feathers, not to mention some very toned physiques. Overall, the highly professional team sings (in French), dances and hugely entertains the audience without taking a single false step.
Moving across town to the Golden Triangle, the Lido cabaret show is situated right at the centre of the Champs-Elysées, with an unparalleled view of the Arc de Triomphe in one direction and the glittering Place de la Concorde in the other. Once heralded as “the most beautiful avenue in the world,” it is a fitting location for a second rendez-vous with frills and feathers – over 200 kilos’ worth of them. This luxurious cabaret can comfortably seat 1,000 guests, and prides itself on offering visitors a quality meal with menus created by renowned chef Philippe Lacroix. Alternatively, you can choose the champagne-only option, particularly recommended for the late show at 23:00.
Expect to behold a lot of technical wizardry and stunning scene changes during the Lido show: at one point, water fountains erupt onto the stage out of nowhere. “Paris Merveilles,” as the show is named, is a perfectly crafted and very well-oiled machine, with highly professional dancers and oodles of glamor and glitz. Fresh and modern, the exotic Bluebell girls take the audience on a stylish tour of the capital city, and the show highlights artistic performances including turns from acrobats and a rather terrifying sword-swallower. In addition to the fabulous feathers and fringes, the solo singer, a new addition to the repertoire, is taking the Champs-Elysées by storm – you can take a quick peek at some of the cabaret’s sparkling content on this brief video. It highlights the artistic direction of Franco Dragone, who was previously responsible for entrancing over 85 million spectators in the Cirque du Soleil shows.
Le Crazy Horse
Just ten minutes’ walk away, on the Avenue George V, lies one of France’s most exotic and iconic venues. Think Crazy Horse, and quite probably certain images instantly pop into your mind’s eye: impossibly tall, leggy girls, those distinctive cropped wigs – and probably very little else in the way of outer garments. Highly distinctive, this Parisian cabaret opened its doors in 1951 and has been seducing and mesmerising audiences ever since. Founder M. Alain Bernardin was unashamedly “un amoureux de femmes” who translated his passion for women into an absolute art form.
In recent years, Pamela Anderson, Conchita Wurst and Dita Von Teese have all graced the stage here to sold-out performances. Christian Leboutin, who designs those marvellous red-soled high-heel shoes that are so instantly recognisable, fittingly put his ingenious talents on show by becoming their first Guest Creator. The job description for anyone wanting to apply to work here has also become legendary: all candidates are by necessity not only excellent dancers, but they have to stand between 1,68m and 1,73 m tall, and cannot be even a discriminatory half-inch taller or shorter.
The Crazy Horse believes in celebrating the female form and exploring the art of seduction to the full. There is huge importance placed on the use of intricate light and shadow to display the true beauty of the body in an extremely subtle fashion. From the enormous red lips gracing the front entrance to the very opulent velvet cosy seats in the surprisingly intimate theatre downstairs, the atmosphere is decidedly electric, but the show itself is extremely tasteful and very graceful from start to finish. Look out for the special tongue-in-cheek cameo tableau portraying English Beefeaters donning bearskin caps, it’s nothing short of extraordinary.
The Crazy Horse is definitely not appropriate for a family night out, but is wholeheartedly recommended for a unique date night, or a post dinner show with friends. For an extra-special experience, ask us about reserving a private lesson with Fiamma Rosa, who instructs small groups with “une leçon dans l’art de séduction” – you may well leave Paris with more than you had bargained for, having learned some of the secrets that make the French so very appealing to the rest of the world…
For assistance reserving your cabaret show and dinner reservations, please contact [email protected] – it would be a pleasure to assist with your bookings.
Please note that some parts of this article were first published in January 2017 for Paris Perfect, with thanks. Featured photo credit Le Lido.