By E.C. Gladstone
Call them “Exotic Revues,” call them tournaments of titilation, call them what you will, the fact is, showgirls in various states of undress (mostly on top) are a tradition at Las Vegas hotels. They’re not all built the same. The dancers? No, no, I’m talking about the shows themselves. Some are in huge theatres, others small and intimate. Some are raw and edgy, others classic and mannered. Every one features gorgeous and gamine gals. It was a tough task, but here they are, in order of one man’s appreciation…
1. Crazy Horse of Paris, MGM Grand
Imported exclusively from Paris (with one new American addition), Crazy Horse presents a dozen model-like women in an shadow-box cabaret of creatively lit, comedic, and tantalizing tableaus. The girls here are as close to fully nude as rules allow, and there’s not a flaw among them. The pop’n’lock interim dancers also get some of the most deserved applause of the evening, Crazy Horse gives all patrons a nice color photo program and offers exclusive cocktails, though the intimate room has some tricky sight lines — here, the top tier might actually be the best seats. Best of the revues for a date, too.
2. Jubilee! Bally’s
If a pretty girl is like a melody, Jubilee is an iPod nano on auto-repeat. The late Donn Arden’s legendary show, one of the longest running on the Strip (16,000 + performances since 1981), is also the largest. Looking for the classic Vegas showgirls in sparkling costumes and headdresses. They’re here, in such a large quantity that it’s hard not to get whiplash enjoying them all. The Samson and Delilah sequence (with men in similarly revealing display) and showgirl finale remain wonders of female fantasy, though the lengthy (clothed!) Titanic tribute seriously needs replacing. Gaucho drummers and an interim juggler are impressive. For families, they offer one weekly non-topless show, 7:30 p.m. Saturdays.
3. Bite, Stratosphere
The only show with a real storyline — following a master vampire and his coven of six lusty beauties — Bite is an unconventional topless show for the post-MTV generation, offering everything from video “fly girl” dancing to elegant topless ballet, with a soundtrack of classic rock (chosen for double entendres), interim acts incorporated into the story and video screens that freeze close-ups of the action. Not that you’ll need ‘em: the girls go into the audience several times, and even come out after the show to take free photos with you!
4. Fantasy, Luxor
Presented in a no-bad-seat small amphitheatre, with a something-for-everyone rotating cast of 12 knockouts, Fantasy — from TV producer Anita Mann and choreographer Cris Judd — features live singer Stephanie Jordan accompanying the girls with a variety of covers (“Roxanne”) and originals as they cavort together or execute music video routines. Talented impersonator Sean Cooper breaks the tension with some light moments.
5. X Burlesque, Flamingo
Probably the edgiest show in the smallest theatre, X Burlesque features six (or is it eight?) girls dancing to a relentless series of rock and hip hop cuts (everything from Guns N Roses to M.I.A.) in every possible combination and almost every imaginable sexy scenario. It’s sure to raise temperatures — though it might also kill a few brain cells.
6. Crazy Girls, Riviera
Now celebrating it’s 21st year on the Strip, the once radical Crazy Girls is now iconic — the only topless show with a bronze statue, of the original girls’ backsides! Essentially an Americanized version of the Parisian Crazy Horse format, CG offers a seven girl cast performing with poles, a rotating bed, the audience, and even a large stuffed male member — accompanied by everything from Eartha Kitt to Led Zeppelin. At times seductive, silly, high energy or intense, CG could still use an infusion of new ideas.
7. Folies Bergere, Tropicana
The Folies is the longest continually running stage show not just in Vegas, but in all the U.S. Thankfully, none of the female cast are that old — but much of the show’s production values are far from cutting edge, which might explain it’s imminent closing at the end of March 2009. The cast acquits itself with sparing toplessness, in nearly every manner of production and ballroom dancing (and there’s a fair amount of men’s shirts off too, ladies). For history’s sake, you might want to check it out before it’s gone. Mid-week matinees are fully clothed, for family audiences.
Continuing the tradition of tease in more convivial confines, you may also want to check out the lingerie-clad lovelies at these Las Vegas hotels: Pussycat Dolls Lounge, Caesars Palace (you never know when a celeb might take the stage), Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce (Mandalay Bay), Cathouse (Luxor) and even Gold Diggers (Golden Nugget). And keep your eyes peeled for Peepshow at Planet Hollywood, with Spice Girl Mel B and Kelly Monaco — coming in April.
Insider Tip: Jubilee! offers a look behind the scenes of the show several mornings a week — even more impressive after you’ve seen a performance.
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E. C. Gladstone is a contributing editor at VEGAS Magazine, and interviews top Strip entertainers, restauranteurs, moguls and behind-the-scenes players for other prominent publications and websites. Like many Las Vegans, he sleeps only when absolutely necessary.