Jubilee! celebrates 31 years of making the showgirl into a Vegas icon
By Susan Stapleton
The showgirl stands as one of the most iconic images of Las Vegas, with her bedazzled feathers and boas, and neck-muscle-defying headdresses. She comes from a background that combines burlesque, vaudeville and dance with the entertainment of Broadway and the hush-hush secrecy of speakeasies.
No other show gives these ultra-glam ladies such a massive stage as Jubilee!, the 31-year-old show appearing at Bally’s, a show that represents the last production of its kind in Sin City.
Donn Arden created this extravaganza with its lush costumes, spectacular scenery, innovative specialty acts, retro music and, of course, gorgeous showgirls all donning a sensational shade of red MAC lipstick and false eyelashes.
“I think that when people think about Las Vegas, one of the most prevalent images is the showgirl and the shows that featured her,” says Diane Palm, company manager of Donn Arden’s Jubilee! “There is no other place that you can still see a true showgirl, in all her splendor, other than at Jubilee! It’s really a tribute to the genius of Donn Arden, who conceived, directed and produced Jubilee! and who had a history of knowing just how to present not only the showgirl, but the entire production, as a jewel.”
And what a jewel it is. Some elements of the show have stood the test of time. “The essence of the show has remained the same—glamorous costumes, a talented cast of performers and dramatic scenic effects that can’t be seen anywhere else,” Palm says.
The decadent Samson and Delilah number still has its original staging and presentation. “It’s a dramatic story, which works well for stage, and the stage effects are really highlighted during this production number, from Delilah’s chamber, which lowers in from the ceiling, to Samson’s destruction of the temple, including collapsing columns and fallen idols,” Palm says.
Even part of the finale, with its dancers spanning the stage wearing red and swaying with red ostrich feather fans like giant clamshells, has been part of the show since the start as well.
Just last year, the Titanic scene got a makeover by costume designer Pete Menefee. He created 20 new costumes for the beginning of the segment to the tune of $250,000. No two looks are the same.
Palm says the finale of the show, which starts as a tribute to Top Hat and Fred Astaire, also changed, with 41 dancers decked out in custom-made tuxedos, each based on Astaire’s tuxedo design. “Of course, you have to include Ginger Rogers, which we do in the next segment that highlights the classic Fred and Ginger style.”
And in that finale, a cavalcade of showgirls, each in a more outrageous and exquisite outfit than the next, in retro bright colors topped with massive headdresses, cascades down a staircase in what seems a never-ending stream. No other image tips its hat to the legend of the showgirl quite like that.
A showstopper, indeed.