Las Vegas style Showgirl experience coming to Montevideo

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Debra Lee Fader and Ruth Ann Lee have been planning a brand new experience for the Montevideo Community with a unique event called “Showgirl for a Day”. The event, planned for Saturday, August 21st at the Hollywood on Main, LLC is currently in the final stages of planning as Lee and Fader hosted a trial run last weekend to work out the details. 

The idea for the event came about after Fader attended a reunion for the cast of the cabaret show Lido de Paris held in Paris in 2019. Lido de Paris premiered in the 1960s and ran for 32 years, with Debra Lee (Kristian) Fader starring as the lead singer in the 1970s. Her casting was not by chance, but by her own determination. “I went to Las Vegas with some friends. We were all in San Diego working in a dinner theater and one of the girls told us there were going to be some auditions in Las Vegas and suggested we should all go. I had a little Honda Civic, and I drove them all. We were halfway there and stopped at a coffee shop and someone pulled out the advertisement from Variety [a show business magazine] and the audition was in there. It said in the audition notes that you must be 5’8” and here I am 5’4”. I realized I wouldn’t even be able to audition but I went anyway. Donn Arden cut me right away. He asked how tall I was and told me to get off the stage,” Fader recounts. “He wouldn’t even see me. Anyone who didn’t fit the criteria wouldn’t even be seen.”

After watching her friends audition, Fader found renewed determination. When two of her road trip companions were asked to come back a few days later for a second audition, Fader decided to step up and ask for one more chance. “I like fairness and I was going to make sure I get something out of this trip, so I went up to Mr. Donn Arden and asked if he wanted to see these two people on Wednesday, and then I said ‘Well then you’re going to have to see me too because I’m their ride home'. He looks at me and says ‘young lady, you’re a really clever girl you are going to be my token singer audition on that day’. He told everybody I was going to audition because I had to take those people home. Then the day rolls around and I had just ten dollars left. Adelaide Robbins was the piano player for a lot of the singers and I told her here’s my last ten dollars - play for me like you’ve been playing for everybody else. We started with “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and Donn Arden’s sitting up front telling me to stop and sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, stop and sing “Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolley”, stop and sing this, sing that, do a dance step, do a time step, now a pirouette. I’m jumping all over and doing everything he wants and he says ‘young lady, you just got yourself a lead in the show… everybody else, it doesn’t matter if she’s short it’s her position’.” Being the only dancer in the show under the height requirement meant that the costume department had to work to build up her shoes to be the height of the other performers. “I had to run up and down thirty-foot staircases, but I was so young I didn’t care. That’s how my life was. I worked without a night off for six months, seven nights a week, then I got three days off and the show would start all over again,” Fader says. “It was a really cool time.”

When she went to the show’s reunion, Fader met many other dancers from all eras of the Lido de Paris show, finding inspiration in the enthusiasm of her peers to revitalize the showgirl industry. “It was a worldwide reunion and I met so many people there. We were all at our best because even though you’re so much older you look at your friend and you’re 19 again. Everyone was so happy,” Fader says. “When I came back from Paris I needed to do something, and it just came out of me - Showgirl experience! I reached out to Ruth Ann at the Hollywood and said Showgirl Experience - let’s do that here.”

Part of that experience for Fader needed to include the idea of empowerment and breaking the standards of what people think of as the Showgirl. Having been a ground-breaking part of changing of the height requirement standards after her audition, she wanted to celebrate the idea that the standards don’t need to apply to the experience. “It’s artful,” Fader says. “It’s a new girls' day out event and the day we did already was so empowering. To have these women try these things on, get dressed up, and see everyone so happy and just the empowerment factor of the idea that I can be fierce and I can be beautiful and I can be powerful… just amazing.”

Fader and Lee recently held a practice run of the event they’re planning to assess what they may need to change about their original ideas for the event. They invited some local ladies to participate in the event, and hired VST Images to photograph the trial run as well as the actual event. One participant, Sandy Erickson shared her experience during the trial run event. “This is a time to celebrate ourselves and to interact and support each other and give each other positive attention,” she says. “I can be beautiful without feeling violated. I feel empowered. It was ok to be beautiful. It was ok to be feminine. It was ok to glamorize and show skin and curves without feeling like we were objects.” 

Fader adds, “I didn’t know how people would react, or if they’d think it was dorky, but when these girls came in they were just ready to rock. They wanted to do this so badly and they were so excited. It was a blessing, and it will be a blessing to anyone who decides they want to be a part of this because it’s a day of pampering. They’re going to come in, they’ll have their faces made up, have their hair pinned up, and then put these costumes on and pose in them.” Fader also notes there may be an actual show element added to the event. “People are asking what time the show is, so I told Ruth Ann we should have for each group a show they can perform in and they don't have to do much. They can pose, and I can sing a song, and we can have the music going, and give it that Vegas flavor. There’s just so much we’re going to have to come up with between then and now but the idea is just to give everyone that momentum, and that enthusiasm, and uplifting experience. It’s exciting. That’s why those girls kept saying it’s so exciting.” 

Erickson says the practice run was an opportunity to see the idea of a Showgirl in a new light. “When I think of a Showgirl I think of the costumes and the feathers but now I think of the movement and the magic of moving across a stage in heels. I think that the encouragement we gave each other during our first event gave us the power to do the things we didn’t think we could do and that’s just magic. When I was on the heels it was so foreign. It’s been ten years since I’ve been on heels and I was afraid I was going to fall but I didn’t. We choose not to do things because we’re afraid to fall or fail and we didn’t with the support of other women,” Erickson says. Fader added, “It’s like you transform yourself into this exotic creature and it's art. It’s not a competition, it’s inclusion so it’s really fun.”

Erickson noted that among those who participated in the practice run, several were women have faced physical challenges. “In the group of people there were cancer survivors, and I wear a pacemaker, and we’re all people. We have scars. I wear a scar where my pacemaker was placed - the scar says my heart is still beating and I’m going to take chances and do things,” she says.

The main event is planned for Saturday, August 21st at the Hollywood Theater and will include professional make-up and hair artists, showgirl costumes that Debra Lee Fader is arranging, and more. Fader is going to be on hand to coach participants through the experience and will have a team of participants from the trial run on hand to help with the day. “Everything is going to take place in the theater,” says Fader. “We’ll have tables set up with mirrors and some lights so it has a dressing room feel. We’ll have everything pre-set and they’ll be able to choose what they want to wear and we’ll have all these different outfits for them to use and then they’ll take a fancy picture.” Those interested must pre-book their Showgirl Experience and can do individual or group bookings. Fader says, “It’ll be a day of pampering in a very supportive environment and just feeling feminine.”