“Jubilee!”: 30 Grand and Glorious Years
By Bill Sewers
They come from the depths, the heights and the sides of the cavernous stage, in wave after colorful, glittering wave, cascading elegantly down the grand silver staircase … they come from the ceiling and they come from the catwalk lowered above and behind their audience. They are those “Grand and Glorious Beauties” and those “Handsome Men” of Donn Arden’s spectacular “Jubilee!,” now celebrating 30 years at Bally’s Las Vegas. Capped by three gazelle-like showgirls in an explosion of glistening white feathers and rhinestones, and underscored by the romantic strains of Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” the finale, and the show, come to a close, the curtain falling and then rising again for one last, fleeting glance at the radiant cast of one of the most sumptuous stage spectacles on the face of the earth.
The “Jubilee!” story has been told many times before in print, in lifestyle documentaries, on television, in innumerable media interviews, and through the publicity machinery. Rising like the legendary phoenix from the ashes of the disastrous MGM Grand Hotel (now Bally’s Las Vegas) fire that destroyed everything just two weeks before its scheduled opening in 1980, “Jubilee!” has always been a source of intrigue and fascination, if for nothing else than its sheer size and larger-than-life grandeur. The numbers are also well known: the original $10 million production cost, the hundreds of thousands of jewels, rhinestones and feathers, the multi-million dollar costumes, sets and backdrops, the stage that is half the size of a football field, the 15 stories from the bottom of the orchestra pit to the roof of the fly loft, the ten tons of dry ice a week, the ten pounds of explosives that create the nightly pyrotechnics, and the 5,000 gallons of water that surge through the boiler room of the mighty, unsinkable Titanic as it descends to its watery grave, right on cue, twice nightly.
The Las Vegas of today is virtually unrecognizable from the Las Vegas of July 30, 1981, when the first resplendent cast of 127 performers took to the “Jubilee!” stage on opening night, but the show has remained constant. In spite of the dizzying pace of technological advances, shorter attention spans, a colder, darker cultural psyche and cries of “old-fashioned,” “a dinosaur,” “out-dated” and “silly,” as the cynics were always happy to inform us, Donn Arden’s final earthly masterpiece remains true to his creative genius and vision.
What is the key to “Jubilee!”’s longevity and success? “It’s beautiful,” says Fluff LeCoque, the show’s gracious and esteemed company manager of 30 years, simply and without hesitation. “It’s classy and elegant and a celebration of female and male beauty that transcends language and cultures. It’s very visual … ‘Jubilee!’ has color and grace and talent, and those things never go out of style.
“Keeping the show fresh is very important,” she continues, “and we’re constantly making changes. Segments of the finale were changed in 1995 and the opening was redone in 1997. We put in all new lighting in 2003, the costumes are new, the sets are new, and now that we audition nationally in New York, L.A., and Orlando, for example, as well as Vegas, we’re getting the tall girls again. Harrah’s is also very, very good about PR and getting our name out there all over the country, so the show is doing very well and has quite a longevity, as long as we keep it sparkling.”
In spite of severe economic woes and a new city skyline of high-rises, “Jubilee!” continues as a shimmering jewel in an illustrious entertainment crown, and is a classic modern reminder of from where we have come.
If, indeed, a pretty girl is just like a melody, then “Jubilee!” is a symphony for the senses. Thank you, “Jubilee!”, for continuing to make the world a more beautiful place.
Photo courtesy Bally’s Las Vegas Public Relations.