What, you expected maybe a Teamsters picket line?
A small but colorful group protesting the closing of the Liberace Museum included a magician with a Liberace marionette, his wife dressed as a showgirl and a female impersonator wearing a makeshift tribute to the showy pianist’s "Bicentennial hot pants" outfit.
Yet the 30-plus people who gathered Wednesday on the sidewalk outside the museum, 1775 E. Tropicana Ave., were all serious when it came to their reasons for spending a lunch hour in the unforgiving sun.
"We want the IRS or somebody to look into what’s been going on," said the magician, Joseph Gabriel, who uses the puppet in "Vegas! The Show." "From the outside looking in, it seems like decisions are being made to hurt the place, not help it."
Signs such as "No hope with Koep" and "Investigate this Me$$" targeted the Liberace Foundation’s chairman, Jeff Koep, and its president, Jack Rappaport. Neither was on-site Wednesday, said a representative of the public relations firm to whom reporter queries were directed by museum staff.
The 31-year-old attraction is closing Oct. 17. In previous interviews announcing the decision, Koep cited a steady decline in attendance, the off-Strip location and a waning interest in the entertainer, who came to TV fame in the 1950s.
Demonstration organizer Jeff White, a former sales and events manager of the museum, said the goal was to "investigate the books and see where the money has been spent; it needs to be scrutinized before everything goes behind closed doors."
"This should have lasted forever. That’s the way he designed it," said Grant Philipo, who said he once served as a fittings model for Liberace’s costumes.
Philipo said he thinks the entertainer left a sufficient endowment for the museum had it not been subjected to "frivolous spending" and "underhanded deals."
Gloria Kritzler, who does sales and marketing for Grand Canyon Tour & Travel, said the tour buses no longer roll up to the museum on a daily basis, but "people still look for this place. It’s part of history."
Cheryl Johnson, who recently retired as a Charlotte Hill Elementary School music teacher, said that the pianist inspired her as a child and that she "brought kids here every year to sing and perform."
The protest didn’t seem to affect the trickle of paid customers. A uniformed security officer strolled near the gathering but did not address protesters.
"I’m really pleased," organizer White said, standing on the sidewalk with his 85-year-old mother, Margie, as the group began to scatter.
As two other senior supporters decided to call it a day, White hugged them and said, "We shined a little light. Let’s see what happens from here."