It is not uncommon for a performer to transition to a role behind the scenes. However, few have done it as fabulously as Pete Menefee, whose costume designs for shows such as Jubilee! and Splash took center stage on the Strip. The Nevada State Museum’s new exhibit, The Artistry of Pete Menefee: Costume Design for the Nevada Stage, contains many of his whimsically glamorous sketches, as well as a number of the costumes they inspired.
Menefee’s career as a dancer included appearances in Mary Poppins and Viva Las Vegas. During a discussion at the opening of the exhibit, he said, “I always brought my dance background into fittings. When I’m drawing, I know how things move, how dance influences the costume.”
Menefee did many of the costumes for Jubilee!, from glitzy, barely-there rhinestones and feathers to high-necked lace gowns for the show’s “Titanic” sequence. Examples of both are in the exhibit and it’s fascinating to see the translation from paper and pencil to sequins and spandex. Some of Menefee’s wildest designs were for Hello, Hollywood, Hello!, an enormous spectacular at Reno’s then–MGM Grand. He fondly recalled the “Futuropolis” sequence, which he says was inspired by Star Wars but “naked-naked,” with sexy robots and mirror-clad showgirls. Menefee’s work on that show led to his stint designing for KISS. “I had done Diana [Ross] and the Supremes, the Temps [Temptations] and the [Four] Tops, but I had never done kinda trashy rock ’n’ roll. I had a good time doing it,” he said.
Photos by Karan Feder
Still, it was Menefee’s work for the Las Vegas stage that was dearest to his heart. His designs for Splash included a lineup of sea-creature showgirls—a seahorse, an angelfish and even a lobster showgirl—whose silly/sexy costumes are included in the exhibit. Will we ever see the likes of this again? Menefee is doubtful: “I don’t think it’ll ever happen again. Besides the cost, you need someone with the vision,” he explained. “You need suits that understand this and don’t just want to make a profit.” If the days of showgirls ever return, Pete Menefee is ready. Until then, his dazzling creations are in the spotlight once more.
The Artistry of Pete Menefee: Costume Design for the Nevada Stage
Through Dec. 31, Tue.–Sun., 9 a.m.–5 p.m., inside Nevada State Museum at Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., springspreserve.org