(Image © Paul Kolnik, 2006)
Jubilee! is one of the last two classic showgirl revues still playing on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s an extraordinary cultural artifact that seems to exist outside of time.
At the core of the classic showgirl revue are the choreographed parades of
the half-naked showgirls, bare-breasted but fantastically costumed,
mainly above the ears, in the elaborate headdresses they manage to
balance miraculously as they go through their parade evolutions.
The display of female pulchritude is almost overwhelming. The traditional
showgirl has a fantastic body and knows how to move with a dancer’s
grace and so it is with the girls in the Jubilee! revue. They all
have lovely breasts, of course, but what’s really stunning is that all
of them seem to be real. Real breasts have become a novelty in Las
Vegas — and not just in the strip clubs — so it’s really breathtaking
to see so many of them in one place, bobbing gently as the girls
promenade, in their wondrous variety of natural shapes, with no trace
of the overstretched, shiny skin that so often gives away the presence
of an implant.
It’s all so much more erotic than the bumping and grinding of girls with
artificial tits and no dancerly grace in the lap-dance emporia of this
town. I think that most strip clubs are designed to help men feel
temporarily superior to women, but at Jubilee! this is not possible
— there are too many of them, they are too poised and dignified. You
must worship them or slink away like a whipped cur.
It’s the numbers of naked women appearing onstage at any given moment that
turn the show into a celebration of Woman, that keep it from becoming a
spectacle-display of women. The show is also an object lesson in the
concept of nudity. Sometimes the women wear slightly transparent bras,
sometimes they wear spangled strings that outline their breasts,
sometimes they wear no tops at all. There is no progression here, as in
a strip-tease, just a witty and seductive kind of play.
The lines of naked women make entrances at various times throughout the
variety show — then, in the second act, there is a long section (about
the sinking of the Titanic, of all things) where they make no
appearance at all . . . so that when at last they do reappear the
moment is joyous. There is clearly a long tradition of showgirl-revue
theatrical practice being drawn on here, and the skillful calculation
of it is impressive. The late Donn Arden, who created Jubilee! more
than twenty years ago, once worked for the Café Lido in Paris, home of
the famous Bluebell girls and one of the classic French topless revues
from which the showgirl revues of of Las Vegas descended.
Here’s a vintage performer from a Paris club:
And here’s a modern incarnation of the Bluebell Girls:
What’s perhaps most impressive about Jubilee! is the fact that its traditional style is offered up without a wink, without quotes around it, without apology.
It’s as though the years since 1957 never happened — we are in a
timeless, mythical place while the show plays, the Land of the
Showgirls. The singing and dancing and juggling and acrobatics that
make up the bulk of the revue itself are professional and sometimes
awesome, but they are just there to set off the girls, to serve as
reminders that there is simply nothing like a dame — nothing you can
name that is anything like a dame.