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December 18, 2014

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Cosmopolitan to display Liberace Museum collection for six weeks

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Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

Liberace’s custom-car collection was on display during the Liberace Museum’s final day of business Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, after 31 years in Las Vegas.

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Liberace used to say it all the time: “Too much of a good thing … is wonderful!” The line always got a big laugh, and, to Liberace, it was more than a joke. The opulently attired showman lived that philosophy, onstage and offstage, during his groundbreaking career as a Las Vegas headliner.

So the title of the new exhibit of the legendary pianist’s personal and professional artifacts at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas fits the Liberace image ideally. “Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful: Liberace and the Art of Costume” opens at 3 p.m. Nov. 25 and runs through Jan. 2. Hours are Monday through Sunday from 3 to 10 p.m.

"The Cosmopolitan fits into the Liberace aesthetic, which is over the top," Liberace Foundation Chairman Brian "Paco" Alvarez said today in an interview. "They have a beautiful marketing campaign with 'The right amount of wrong.' Liberace was just the right amount of fabulous."

Billed as Liberace’s return to the Strip after a 30-year absence — he had headlined at the Last Frontier, Flamingo, Riviera, Caesars Palace and Flamingo on the Strip, along with the Las Vegas Hilton on Paradise Road — the exhibit reminds of the performer’s greatest moments in Las Vegas. He was a Vegas star from his opening performance at the Last Frontier in 1944 to his last performance at Circus Maximus at Caesars Palace in August 1986. He opened the Liberace Museum on East Tropicana Road in 1979.

The six-week exhibit at the Cosmo features many of the showman’s best-known possessions. The famous Baldwin rhinestone-adorned piano and matching roadster, a collection of European-designed candelabras, performance clips, an array of stage costumes highlighted by his virgin fox fur coat with a 16-foot train, jumpsuits encrusted with sequins and custom cowboy boots are among the items on display.

The piano is to be shown at the Chandelier bar and roadster at the hotel’s Strip entrance, and performances on that piano are being planned. Many of the items will be set up at the Cosmopolitan’s Pop-Up Wedding Chapel space on the corner of the Strip and the casino floor. Donation boxes are to be placed at the attraction to raise funds for the Liberace Foundation scholarship fund for promising musicians in Southern Nevada.

The display was made possible through a partnership between the Liberace Foundation and Cosmopolitan officials. The curator is Deirdre Clemente, assistant professor of history and associate director of the public history program at UNLV. Clemente also was a consultant for the film “The Great Gatsby.”

Aside from a small exhibit at Time Warner Plaza in July, coinciding with the premiere of the HBO film "Behind the Candelabra," the opening of the exhibit marks the first time the Liberace collection has been available as a public attraction since the Liberace Museum closed in October 2010. During the months leading to the announcement of its closing, owed to declining visitation numbers, officials had considered moving a version of the museum to a Strip location or a parcel at Town Square.

"There are a lot of 'firsts' with this exhibit," Alvarez said. "It's the first time, aside from the Time Warner exhibition, that a major exhibition featuring Liberace's collection is on display. It's the first major exhibition on the Strip. We did have a small exhibit with the Casino Legends Hall of Fame, years ago, at the Tropicana, but this is the first big exhibit on the Strip to show Liberace's collection exclusively, and it's the first time a whole different generation of Las Vegas visitors will get to see these pieces."

In January, the Liberace Foundation announced plans to move to Neonopolis and take up 10,000 square feet on the ground level of the entertainment and retail complex at Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. As the Foundation works on a bankruptcy settlement with representatives of U.S. Bank stemming from the Foundation's management of the museum's formal parcel on East Trop, Alvarez is keeping with the original plan to open the museum offices in January.

He hopes to have the exhibition space, with the working title the Liberace Entertainment Experience (LEE for short), open by the end of 2014.

"We have one step left on the business license, and the 10,000 square feet is in the long-term plan to be open within the year," he said. "It is up to us as board members to make that happen."

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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