Ray Bolger in Las Vegas…….1957
It was 1957 and a friend and I were driving cross country from Santa Barbara, California to the East Coast. My year at KEY-T had been rewarding and exciting but new management took over and I could see the handwriting on the wall. Besides that, I was anxious to try my luck in NY City.
We had driven through the night and our first impression of Las Vegas was a distant sparkle of bright lights suddenly appearing on the horizon. One minute we saw nothing but desert and then it turned into this gaudy city called “Vegas”. Although it was 5 AM the town was hopping and people were everywhere.
Breakfast and 4 hours of sleep were what we needed and we had both before we headed out again. Our contact in the city was the parent of one of our friends and she had made arrangements for us to attend a floor show that evening at the Hotel Sahara. The main attraction was Ray Bolger and we were thrilled. In 1939 he had become a household name for his rendition of the timid scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” movie, but we knew that his talent far out-weighed that one show.
His performance on Broadway in the musical “Where’s Charley?” was proof that he was a song and dance man of star quality. He played an Oxford student named Charley, who dresses in drag and pretends to be his dowager Aunt. His soft-shoe rendition of “Once In Love With Amy” was the hit of that show and became his theme song.
The opening of the Las Vegas show was the typical girlie parade, but then the lights dimmed and Ray Bolger took the stage. We sat mesmerized as he performed his routines ... he was so loose that you’d swear he didn’t have a bone in his entire body.
Most of his routine was comical and fast-paced so we were completely unprepared for the finale. Ray suddenly stopped and stood perfectly still in the spotlight. A hush came over the audience and then the orchestra softly began to play “Once In Love With Amy”. Ray sang and performed his soft-shoe routine to perfection and then he asked us to join in. We sang very softly in the background as he continued to dance and toss the lyrics to us a line at a time . It was a magical moment.
I guess most people will remember Ray Bolger as traveling the Yellow Brick Road in search of a brain...but I will always cherish my memory of him in 1957, as the lovelorn Charley singing to his Amy on the stage at the Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas.