Jubilee!

 Showgirls onstage with feather boas

In November 1980 Arden was two weeks from opening his newest creation, Jubilee!, when fire swept through the MGM Grand Hotel, killing 85 people and destroying all of the sets and costumes for the show. Despite this setback, Jubilee!, with its sinking Titanic and collapsing Samson temple, opened in July 1981, and is still going strong, having celebrated its 20th anniversary in July 2001. Originally titled Hollywood Jubilee, Jubilee! took the Las Vegas Show to its ultimate in flamboyant extravagance. “I'm a dreamer, and I dream big,” Donn Arden remarked to a Los Angeles columnist in 1980 as he began work on the show. “Unfortunately, I dream expensively and in these days of inflation I really wonder when we have come to a stop.”

Speaking of the escalating costs of the costumes alone, Arden noted a price quote for a showgirl’s basic bikini-and-bra costume – $1800 apiece – “This was gros-grained ribbon – not a feather or jewel on it . . .” There were 702 costumes used in Hallelujah Hollywood!; Jubilee! would have over one thousand. And that‘s not counting subsequent revisions and revamping of the show.

Like its predecessor Hallelujah Hollywood!, Jubilee! climaxed with “The Ziegfeld Follies”—The Heavenly Stairway to the Stars and the former The Great Ziegfeld Walk, now The Donn Arden Walk. The costumes were by Pete Menefee and Bob Mackie. Arden's show and his showgirls, continuing the tradition of Florenz Ziegfeld and chic couture costuming and the feminine form, now dance on Bally’s gargantuan marquee screen, still dominating the Las Vegas Strip.

Is it camp? Kitsch? Or simply an aspect of Las Vegas’ billboard sex industry? A unique mix of corniness with eroticism? According to New York Times Magazine, as Las Vegas turns into a theme park, showgirls now compete with water slides and volcanoes as tourist attractions, although they remain a reliable “niche of old fashion smut, " the risqué show that attracted Parisians (and American tourists) to Parisian clubs, and now attracts middle class couples from Dayton to Las Vegas—thrilling and provocative, or at least hearkening back to a time when they were.