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Palm Springs

Follies serve up song, dance and laughter

By CARY ORDWAY

When you're checking off the list of reasons why you should plan a visit to Palm Springs – sunshine, great resorts, shopping, outdoor sports and spectacular scenery – don't overlook live musical theater. We're talking specifically about the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, a professionally produced show that has proven so successful that it is now in its 19th season.

The cast of the Follies is an incredibly talented group of older folks – somehow the term "senior citizens" just doesn't seem to apply here – who all had long careers performing on Broadway, on national television and in some of the best theater groups in the country. The 16 cast members have all been at the top of their profession, singing and dancing their hearts out in major productions in the country's best venues.

Now, with ages ranging from late 50's to the oldest working showgirl at 86 years young, the cast members have found a way to continue performing their physically demanding roles at a time in their lives when many people consider walking the dog a major physical accomplishment.

But before you get the idea that this show is just a bunch of old people shuffling around the stage pretending they are young again, we can tell you nothing is further from the truth. These entertainers are the real deal, every bit as energetic as the dancers you saw in all those old Gene Kelly movies and performing routines so strenuous that even young people would have to get in shape to pull them off.

And no doubt these exhaustive dance numbers must take their toll. As Master of Ceremonies Riff Markowitz kidded at the end of the show: "You all need to go home now because we have to take a nap."

This year's show is a review of popular songs from the 40's, 50's and 60's. On one medley the group may be dressed in costumes and hairstyles of the World War II era, while in another part of the show it's all about Elvis and the styles of the 50's. Beatles music and other elements of the 60's are created in still another part of the show.

There are also the glitzy showgirl numbers that feature the lady cast members dressed in elaborate costumes adorned with frilly flowers and feathers and headdresses half again as tall as the ladies. Skin-tight body suits give the impression they are exposing lots of flesh covered only by a few bright ornaments placed in strategic locations. No matter the age, all of the performers are in amazing shape and proud to show it off.

The three-hour show is well-paced, broken up by guest performances that are usually famous show business names. During our visit, the guests were the Four Aces, a popular male vocal group from the 1950's that saw 30 of their songs reach the Top 40. Another guest was Brad Cummings, an extremely talented ventriloquist who kept the audience in stitches and proved to be one of the show's highlights.

The glue that holds this performance all together is Markowitz, who they refer to as an impresario because of his role in co-founding the Follies with Mary Jardin. Markowitz, who has a background in television production, says he learned how to work an audience when he would go out and do the warm-up before a live television taping. Today, Markowitz has the jokes and timing down pat and is an obvious stand-up talent who could go toe-to-toe with Leno or any of the greats. His frequent monologues are spread out over the evening and often poke fun at growing old – a subject the older-than-average audience completely understands.

But in case you were thinking this show is just for old people, it's really not. It's hilarious and entertaining for mid-teens on up, but especially for those middle-age and older. While the songs and costumes may be dated, the humor is contagious and the performances are breathtaking.

Rounding out our visit

On this, our most recent visit to Palm Springs we focused on downtown Palm Springs (site of the Follies), where we enjoyed browsing the shops along North and South Palm Canyon Drive. This main shopping district of Palm Springs has lots of designer shops, boutiques, restaurants, museums and one-of-a-kind stores. It's all within walking distance and one great suggestion is to plan to have lunch in one of the sidewalk cafes.

While the desert communities are famous for their mega resorts with golf courses and spacious grounds, we enjoyed a more "close-in" experience this time staying at the Holiday Inn Resort, just a mile or so from the downtown shopping area. One of just a few Holiday Inns nationally that are permitted to use the "resort" designation in its name, this hotel went through a major renovation in the last couple of years and is built around an Olympic-size swimming pool and spacious and popular pool patio area. The kids will enjoy the "Dive-in" movies presented outdoors each night in the pool area.

The resort is surrounded by palm trees and features a Moroccan style fountain, two heated whirlpool spas, a fire pit, tented cabana bar, and water misters around the pool. Holiday Inn Resort offers a complimentary shuttle to downtown Palm Springs and, if you want to dine on property, Billy D's Restaurant has a sports bar feel and is popular with guests who want to watch sports on one of several big-screen TV's.

The rooms at the Holiday Inn Resort also feature wide flat-screen televisions as well as other resort-style amenities such as mini-toiletries, high-quality beds and linens, refrigerators, poolside or balcony views, work stations and tables where you can dine in-room. Best of all, the prices at Holiday Inn Resort are quite competitive.

There are many tourist attractions in the Palm Springs area including Jeep tours and horseback rides that take you out in the desert; rides in hot air balloons or on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway where you will travel high above the desert. Celebrity home tours also are fun year-round.

On this particular trip we had some outdoors fun in an area known as the Indian Canyons. Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs, the Indian Canyons are several canyons preserved by the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians and open – for a fee – to the general public for hiking, horseback riding and picnicking. There are four canyons altogether, each with different features.

We spent an afternoon hiking in the 15-mile-long Palm Canyon, a fascinating landscape with its indigenous flora and fauna that make it seem so far from the glitz and glamour of Palm Springs. This trail features groves of the California Fan Palm, a dramatic tree that provides shade and picturesque scenery along this moderate hike. The grade is gradual and part of the foot path is paved, winding down into the canyon for picnicking by the stream and then up the canyon where visitors can find plenty of interesting rock formations and colorful landscape to explore. The tribe also has a Trading Post at the beginning of the trail where you can buy maps, refreshments, Indian art and artifacts, books, jewelry, pottery, baskets, weaving, and conversational cultural lore.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: The Palm Springs area is about 110 miles east of Los Angeles, less than a two hour drive from anywhere in the LA Metro area.

WHAT: Palm Springs is where Hollywood stars and others go to get away from the city. Over the past few decades, several other cities in the valley have grown up so that the city of Palm Springs is only one of several "desert cities," all with excellent resorts and other attractions.

WHEN: November through May is usually considered the prime season for Palm Springs because of moderate temperatures. But the Palm Springs area also is viable during other times of the year when prices are much lower.

WHY: The "Palm Springs Experience" is one of style and elegance in a beautiful desert area surrounded by picturesque mountains.

HOW: For more information on the Palm Springs area, phone 800-347-7746 or go to www.visitpalmsprings.com. For more information on the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, phone 760-327-0225 or visit www.psfollies.com. For more information on the Holiday Inn Resort call 760-323-1711 or visit www.hipalmsprings.com.

Photos, from top: Fabulous Palm Springs Follies in patriotic scene from 2009-2010 show; world's oldest living showgirl Dorothy Kloss, 86; Holiday Inn Resort Palm Springs; hiking in Palm Canyon

Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway; Follies photos courtesy Palm Springs Follies

OTHER DESTINATIONS: Be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Laguna Beach, La Jolla and Coronado.



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