Love Circus, The Magic of the Folies Bergère

  • January 27, 2015
  • Parisian theatre
  • Daisy Jacobs

I hop off the metro at Grands Boulevards and start out on my walk to the Folies Bergère, desperately trying to recall the route I thought I’d memorised. Winding through the streets of the 9th arrondissement (trying to avoid the lure of every crêperie I pass) I start to panic: with ten minutes to go, and no sense of direction, this isn’t looking promising. 
Until, at the end of the narrow rue Geoffroy-Marie I spot it. A glowing, gold and red beacon: the Folies Bergère: “le plus célèbre music hall du monde” (the most famous music hall in the world). 

Inside, every nook and cranny cries history. Each under-polished mirror, every dusty corner, every dull gold spangle tells a tale of performers and performances past. As the audience crams in for the evening’s show, it’s hard not to find myself transported back to the theatre’s music hall days, when Charlie Chaplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Ginger Rodgers and Frank Sinatra were treading the boards at the Folies. The empty bar in the corner recalls the lady made timeless by Manet’s Un bar aux Folies-Bergère, and the numerous glass cases in the entrance hall exhibit gorgeously decadent costumes from cabaret-shows gone by. 

It therefore seems perfect that tonight’s show should play on the historic weight of its venue, recounting for its audience the (fictitious) story of the family of the Folies Bergère. The show is Love Circus, a musical-cum-circus-show-cum-cabaret that combines song, dance, acrobatics and a (somewhat tenuous) storyline to form a two-hour long feel-good spectacle, all about love and the Folies Bergère. 

For a country that’s in no way famed for its musical theatre, the show sure does pack a punch. The singing is incredibly powerful, and technically flawless, the dance routines are full of all the pizzazz of Broadway, and the sparkling costumes just keep on coming (not to mention the borderline crazy circus tricks that have me digging my fingernails into the red velvet armrests for a good chunk of the show). By the end of the evening, the 
entire audience is on their feet, dancing along to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, as heart shaped balloons fall from the ceiling. It’s a bizarre scene, and distinctly un-French, especially compared to my trip to Samuel Beckett’s notoriously bleak Fin de Partie just last night, but it’s clear that the audience is loving it.

folies bergeres paris

And if the glowing faces around me don’t say it enough, the curtain call proves just how much of a hit the show has been. Indeed, this might just be one of my favourite things about going to the theatre in France. As a Londoner who’s used to two bow long curtain calls (three at the very most), there’s something beautifully overindulgent about the way the French do it. Five bows later and the audience’s hands are still beating together, and it seems they’ve no intention of stopping. The longest curtain call I have ever experienced in a French theatre lasted seven and a half minutes (for the Théâtre du Châtelet’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) and Love Circus comes in at a very close second.

As the curtain finally falls and the lights come up, the auditorium is filled with a tangible post-show buzz, and once again I’m transported back to the rowdy clamour of cabaret shows gone by. This is the magic of the Folies Bergère.