SIN CITY CLASSIC: A performer portrays Delilah in "Jubilee!,"… (Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Las Vegas — After nearly a decade as a Vegas showgirl, Patsy Rodriguez has plenty of stories about performances that didn't go quite as planned. She may not tell all, but she shares plenty when she meets visitors.
Like the one about the time her wig fell off and got stuck to the shoe of her male dance partner.
"It looked like he was dragging a dead dog," she says.
Rodriguez tells several such stories as she leads guests on a behind-the-scenes tour of "Jubilee," the glitzy song-and-dance spectacular that's been playing at Bally's since 1981. In fact, it's the last such show — with bare breasts and bums — still on the go in Sin City. Its last competitor — "Les Folies Bergere" at the Tropicana — closed last year, a few months shy of its 50th anniversary.
Planning your trip
Jubilee, Bally's Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, 3645 Las Vegas Blvd. South; (702) 739-4111, http://www.ballyslasvegas.com. Jubilee, which celebrated its 17,000th performance in January, has shows at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday through Thursday. The showgirls cover up for the early show on Saturday, when the minimum age is 13. Tickets start at $52.50. Backstage tours are offered Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 11 a.m. for $12 a person with a "Jubilee" ticket and $17 without. For information, call (702) 967-4567.
"There's lots of giggling and moving chairs and just being uncomfortable at first," Rodriguez says of the first few minutes of "Jubilee," when the entire cast, including several topless showgirls, is onstage for the opening number.
"It is overwhelming," she says. "You have 85 gorgeous people, especially in the front line [with] the showgirls." But, she adds, within a few minutes people relax and "enjoy the beauty of the show."
Although 11 of the 12 weekly performances are topless and therefore adults-only, nudity doesn't dominate.
"All the girls who work topless are natural. There's no augmentation," notes Fluff LeCoque, the company manager. "We don't want that to be the focal point. The show itself is the star."
LeCoque, who notes she's been in show business since she was 3, has been with "Jubilee" since its opening. A trained singer and dancer who's going strong at age 86, LeCoque first performed in Las Vegas in 1947 at the long-gone Last Frontier hotel.
"I finally settled here in Vegas in 1963 and have been here ever since.
"I was a dancer, not a showgirl," she's quick to note. "I never worked topless."
A stickler for quality, LeCoque is at Bally's by about 5 p.m. six days a week. When there's a rehearsal after the 10:30 p.m. show, she can work until 4 in the morning. And every six months, she holds auditions. Everyone, including current cast members, must audition or re-audition for a spot.
LeCoque obviously gets results. "Jubilee" is still popular — many nights, the 1,000-plus seats are nearly all occupied, often with repeat customers.
"I will see it again and again. It's just an amazing show," says Christy Vollrath of Edmonton, Canada, who has seen the production three times.
"It's totally Vegas. The costumes [and] the dancing are phenomenal."
The 90-minute show consists of seven acts. Some of them, including the tales of Samson and Delilah and the sinking of the Titanic, have been popular since the show began.
The Titanic act illustrates the huge scale of "Jubilee." The elaborate sets change seamlessly as the story musically unfolds, beginning with farewell waves on the pier in Southampton, England, before moving inside, where passengers waltz the night away in a wood-paneled ballroom.
As the ship strikes an iceberg, the audience is witness to torrents of water (it's recycled) flooding the boiler room. Then, as a lifeboat floats past, a listing Titanic slowly disappears from view as giant elevators lower it into a cavernous basement.
"We proudly sink it 12 times a week," Rodriguez says as she leads visitors past the model of the doomed ship, deep beneath the stage.
"Now it's time for major bling," she tells about 30 guests as they walk down a corridor to a door marked "Feather Room." Upon opening the door, the showgirl reveals a giant closet filled with ornate headgear fashioned with huge feathers of every color imaginable.
"They say 'light as a feather,' but not here," Rodriguez says while holding a hefty headdress. "This probably weighs 20 pounds [and it's] all on your head."
The costumes, with 5 tons of Swarovski crystal beads and countless sequins and feathers, cause visitors Damien Barrett and Adam Filewood to ogle — and linger — at a couple of stops on the tour.
Back home in Australia, the two men are professional drag queens. Barrett designs and sews their costumes; Filewood creates their feather-filled headdresses. They are in awe as they enter rooms filled with millions of dollars worth of outfits designed by Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee.
"The costumes and the feathers were just amazing," Barrett says. "We like doing the big feather costumes. …Every time I see anything with Bob Mackie's costumes in it, I just want to go home and make a whole lot more."
Mackie is the mastermind behind the elaborate finale, in which all 85 performers appear in his costumes. Among a medley of songs is Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," which was introduced 75 years ago on Broadway in a musical about European royalty. Its name, coincidentally, is "Jubilee."
As the shimmering showgirls glide gracefully down a massive staircase just before the final curtain, the chorus' last words, written by Irving Berlin, befit the splendor onstage: "A pretty girl is like a melody."