Happy Birthday, Jubilee: The Las Vegas showgirl spectacular turns 30
Bust out the feathers and the sparkles -- Jubilee at Bally's Las Vegas, the last showgirl spectacular on the Las Vegas strip, is turning 30 this month. A relic from a time when more was definitely more, the show features 85 statuesque dancers, seven elaborate numbers, and 1,000 costumes, many of which were designed for the original show back in 1981.
In honor of this glitzy birthday, I spoke with Pete Menefee, an Emmy-winning designer who created many of the costumes for Jubilee (others are by Bob Mackie). Menefee works in a decidedly sparkly niche of the fashion world. He's dressed Michael Jackson, Shirley MacLaine and the band KISS, and he's worked on the Miss Universe pageants for 19 years. He's also a go-to guy for professional ice-skating outfits. I asked him how he got the Jubilee gig, what he has to think about when creating showgirl costumes, and whether showgirls will ever go out of style.
Menefee: I had done a show prior to Jubilee for [Jubilee creator] Donn Arden called "Hello, Hollywood, Hello," so this was my second big cabaret show. Your first one you are so nervous about doing it right. I remember when I got my first show, looking at a blank piece of paper and thinking, 'I have to draw a woman in an evening gown with her breasts out.' It's really perplexing. You don't want it to be something people will laugh at. There's a real fine line to adhere to. It's almost like learning a second language for this kind of show.
ATR: Did you worry about the weight of the costumes and making sure the women could walk in them?
Menefee: The women in our show aren't walking in the costumes, they are dancing in them. I don’t worry about the weight; it's more about the balance. The women they hire are trained dancers and they are pretty much able to handle anything, but you don't want to make it so challenging that they don't look good. They do a lot of difficult dancing, some of it on stairs.
ATR: I read that a lot of the original clothes are still being used. That's amazing.
Menefee: A lot of the clothes have lasted 25 and 30 years. That not only shows they were made well -- we had some of the best people in the world making them -- it's also a testament to the wardrobe crew that handles the clothes day in and day out. It is a tribute to them that the clothes have lasted as long as they have and look as good as they do. Also, I use all man-made materials. I use as much polyester as I can. It looks like silk and satin on stage, but you can't use them. They aren't durable.
ATR: What else did you have to take into consideration when designing for a show like this?
Menefee: One of the things you have to be careful of in a show this size is that the numbers don't look the same. You don't want people coming out in something red and shiny and then purple and shiny. The Titanic stuff [there is a scene in Jubilee that revolves around the sinking of the Titanic] is all 1912 period stuff. No shine, a lot of embroidery, a lot of lace.
ATR: Do you worry the costumes will ever look dated?
Menefee: This show is its own animal. There is nothing else like it really. It's like the circus. If you do it properly, it does last.
Visitors to Vegas can see Jubilee at 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. nightly, except for Fridays, when there is no show. Tickets can be purchased at the Bally’s box office for $57.50 to $117.50.
Want more pictures of the Jubilee spectacular? Check out our audio slide show with photos and commentary from company manager Fluff LeCoque.
-- Deborah Netburn
Photos: Images from Jubilee past and present. Credit: Jubilee