With its elaborate headdresses, colorful sequined gowns and statuesque dancers, Jubilee is the classic Las Vegas show. It was the last showgirl extravaganza on the Vegas Strip, and now it's closing — this coming Thursday will be the final performance.
Women go through eight to 12 costume changes in a show that packs in at least as many different routines in about 90 minutes. There's a patriotic medley, the story of Samson and Delilah, even the Titanic.
Diane Palm, the current company manager, was a showgirl when Jubilee launched almost 35 years ago. "I mean, the sets were tremendous," she says. "They were huge. I'd never seen anything like that before. The costumes were absolutely glorious."
Those costumes were designed by Bob Mackie and his colleague Pete Menefee. As Menefee leafs through a pile of costume sketches destined for the Nevada State Museum, he picks out one of a woman "dressed" (but topless) in an outfit decorated with 300 chandelier crystals and as many pheasant feathers.
Menefee has designed clothes for showbiz royalty across the generations: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson. But topless women stumped him.
"The first time I had to sit down and draw a lady who was in an evening gown with her boobs out, I thought: This is either going to be very prurient or people are just going to laugh at it," he says.
Turns out, the extravaganza boomed at the box office.
"If you could have a show that would appeal to the entire family and yet be topless, it was Jubilee," says John Katsilometes, a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly magazine. "It's funny because you didn't feel it was a 'naughty' show at all. You go to some of these topless shows in Las Vegas — especially the more recent ones — and they're erotic and aggressive and really sexual. And Jubilee wasn't that."
As Katsilometes' former colleague wrote a few years ago: "Think The Lawrence Welk Show (or The Love Boat) with breasts."
It is a throwback, says Katsilometes: "It seems trapped in time."
And that may be its problem. Caesars Entertainment, which owns Jubilee, isn't saying why the show is closing — but it's expensive to produce. And there's a lot more contemporary competition — eight Cirque du Soleil shows are running concurrently in Las Vegas right now.
But, Katsilometes says with a laugh: "If there's any show ... that deserves to be protected by the public trust, it's Jubilee. Jubilee should be a landmark — a historic landmark of the State of Nevada in the County of Clark in the City of Las Vegas."
The city and its shows attract performers from around the world. Maryann Picchi moved from California to join Jubilee at the beginning of its run.
"We did a tribute to Elvis," she says, pointing out their costumes in a photo album. "We wore bows and little miniskirts."
She's not topless in this picture. But she remembers being asked. "I said yes," she says.
Picchi performed in Jubilee for three years before retiring. She feels sorry for all of the women who are losing their jobs now that the show is closing.
"It's not easy to transition from being a performer to, what we call, civilian life," she says. "I don't know what they're going to do. And I'm sad for Las Vegas entertainment, in general, because they're going to miss a beautiful show."
More Photos Of 'Jubilee!':
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