‘Glittering in the dark’: audience appeal and the design of attraction at the Stardust, Las Vegas, 1959
This paper reports from the Visualizing Lost Theatres project on the design of mid-twentieth century revue. It focuses on the second revue presented by the Lido de Paris at the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Ca C’est L’Amour opened in June 1959, playing 15 shows a week, in the Stardust’s Cafe Continental, a showroom which seated 750 people at tables in a tiered cabaret formation. Over a 15 month run, the revue attracted an estimated audience of 800,000 men and women, drawn from the mobile, middle-class of predominantly white America. This study uses digital reconstruction in virtual reality to interrogate relations between venue architecture, production design, performance practice and audience appeal. Combining an architectural account of ‘attraction’ from Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972), with an economic understanding of ‘appeal’ from Susan Bennett’s essay on audience mobility in ‘Theatre/Tourism’ (2005), this paper analyses the design of the Stardust’s ‘glittering in the dark’ attraction as a body-venue articulation in which the Lido revue, shot through with the vectors of international entertainment, momentarily arrests the attention of the tourist-audience passing through. When the Lido closed at the Stardust after 32 years, the revue had attracted 19 million spectators to 22,000 performances. How did the Stardust succeed in attracting an audience for international revue? And how did the Lido revue sustain its audience appeal? Since the casino was demolished in 2007, digital reconstruction using virtual reality extends the horizon for addressing these questions.
Jonathan Bollen is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies at UNSW Sydney. His recent research traces the development of international touring, entrepreneurial diplomacy and commercial entertainment in the Asia Pacific region. He also has experience in the digital humanities, developing collaborative methods for theatre research and data visualisations of networks and tours. He is the author of Touring Variety in the Asia Pacific Region, 1946–1975 (2020) and co-author of A Global Doll’s House: Ibsen and Distant Visions (2016) and Men at Play: Masculinities in Australian Theatre since the 1950s (2008). He has published on data models for theatre research in Theatre Journal (2016), coordinated research for the AusStage database (2006–13), and co-edited recent issues of Popular Entertainment Studies.