"Jubilee!" premiered on July 30, 1981, a few weeks after "Raiders of the Lost Ark" opened at the Fox theater in the Charleston Plaza mall. Depending on your age and point of view, you can use that to say ...
■ It was a long time ago. Some of the showgirls now walking the feathered headdresses up and down staircases weren't born yet.
■ It wasn't that long ago. "Raiders" had a winking, knowing sense of humor about the old Hollywood serials it paid homage to. And it was a full seven years after "Blazing Saddles," with the "French Mistake" number that should have stuck a fork in any straight-faced attempt to have chorus boys in top hats and tails "Puttin' on the Ritz."
In other words, "Jubilee!" was probably camp from the day it opened.
But no one told Las Vegas, which was a different place then. The showgirl spectacular still was the primary color in a much smaller entertainment palette, and the early '80s weren't the city's most memorable years.
Now "Jubilee!" is marching toward 30, and one hopes it doesn't meet the same fate that befell "Folies Bergere" at age 49. The danger seems real. People watching the show last week seemed like they didn't know what to make of it, and I wonder if the people in charge of the show do either (it has long outlived creator Donn Arden).
The no-touch attitude at least keeps the museum piece well-preserved, with a lot of loving care maintaining the rhinestone bikinis and sequined vests (for the dudes). Computer lighting -- added in 2004 and overseen by Broadway veteran Ken Billington -- gives it all a dignified look, sometimes out of proportion to what's onstage.
The revue still has three things you don't see anywhere else, and one can only hope they never change:
1. The most bare female breasts an average adult male is going to see in one room at one time. At least in bright light without a lot of secondhand smoke. Enjoy the sight lads, and no bitching about these living mannequins not otherwise doing anything erotic. (The early show on Saturdays is "covered" if you prefer to take the family.)
2. The "Samson and Delilah" number Mel Brooks wishes he thought of, complete with slave girls, homoerotic bedazzled cod pieces and recorded sirens crooning its chocka-wacka theme song, "Love can drive you wild ..."
3. The nightly sinking of the Titanic, an impressive shuffling of big, three-dimensional scenery that's still pretty cool even in the computer-automated, Cirque du Soleil era.
The specialty acts between numbers offer a nod to our Cirque era, with the beefcake balancing acrobats of Duo Gabon and another buff guy, Vitaly, doing the flying-man routine on long pieces of fabric (which Cirque introduced 11 years after "Jubilee!" opened). Fear not, however. It's the Argentine act The Gauchos that still brings the crowd to life at the 40-minute mark.
The not so hot?
1. The wall of artifice from the canned music and lip-synced vocals (save for two live singers, James Allen and Mollie Tenant). Today's audiences are hip to that, unless they're at a Britney Spears concert.
2. The old Hollywood aesthetic of the first 15 and last 20 minutes. Oddly enough, these were the parts tinkered with in 1997. Weird that they didn't figure out that by then, empty nesters didn't grow up in the 1940s, like the show's original wave of retirees.
3. No one's winking at you. If you're going to dance to "Begin the Beguine" or "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," give it a retro sensibility or tell us it's OK to laugh.
"Jubilee!" is frozen in time partly because it would be ridiculously expensive to redo it, with an uncertain return on investment. But really, they could make it a lot better for a whole lot less, just by changing what people do, not so much what they wear.
Here's an idea: Looking to the 30th anniversary, Bally's pitches Bravo on a "Project Runway"-style contest, challenging young choreographers to redo the beginning and end. They would get TV publicity and new content. Remember though, Samson is off-limits.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.