BY DR. NEO GUTIERREZ
Many years ago I used to go to Las Vegas once a year, for a long week-end of seeing the best shows in town. Sometimes I would see some shows because someone I knew was in them. Other times, I went for the spectacular work involved in production. So it was that I got to see the JUBILEE show at Bally’s.
On February 11, 2016, JUBILEE will present its last show, having started its spectacular run 34 years ago. It’s the longest-running show in the history of Las Vegas.
Robin Leach of the Las Vegas Sun Times tells us:
The biggest show on the Las Vegas Strip is closing on Feb. 11. The cast and crew of “Jubilee” at Bally’s were rocked with the unexpected news. It’s a double shocker in less than 48 hours because the show’s co-creator and associate producer, Fluff LeCoque,died Thursday at age 92. She was unaware of the pending shutdown after its 34-year run.
The iconic and lavish Donn Arden’s “Jubilee,” which cost $10 million to stage, is coming to an end, but there’s hope that a new showgirl spectacular at its Bally’s home could arise from the ashes. Caesars Entertainment executives, I’ve learned, are exploring a new show.
“Bally’s Las Vegas is proud that millions of guests from around the world have experienced this thrilling Las Vegas classic for more than 34 years. We are looking forward to revealing exciting new developments in our entertainment lineup at Bally’s in the coming months,” said Bally’s Las Vegas President David Hoenemeyer in an official statement after notifying cast.
“Jubilee” will continue six nights a week (dark Fridays) through Feb. 11, 2016, along with the hourlong private tours for the behind-the-scenes secrets of its glitz and glamour that have been a major attraction the last eight years.
It has been a historic run as the last showgirl extravaganza on the Strip, and therein lies the economic challenges buffering a continuing run. Although there have been sellouts of the 1,040 seats, the production team has wrestled with one of the most expensive budgets in town.
The cast of nearly 70 dancers, singers and specialty acts is matched by the almost 70 stagehands it takes to operate the stage, sets, lights, elevators and sound equipment. Twenty-six people work in the wardrobe department to keep those outrageous and expensive costumes in shape.
Many of the show’s sets and costumes date back to the original 1981 production, including the Titanic sinking and the Samson and Delilah temple collapse. Delilah’s crown for that scene is the largest jeweled headpiece at 2 feet tall and covered with 20 pounds of rhinestones.
I’m reliably told that because of their value historically and in cost, everything will remain at Bally’s. “They are irreplaceable and hopefully can be used in the future,” one exec said.
When the show opened in July 1981, the average cost of one finale costume was $7,000 — or $21,000 now with inflation. More than 1,000 of them are worn during the show, many designed by Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee. The opening number cost $3 million to stage. There are 8,000 miles of sequins used on the costumes, enough to reach from the Strip to Place Pigalle and Montmartre in Paris where topless spectaculars premiered.
If all the jewelry worn by the gorgeous dancers was weighed, it would total 10,000 pounds. More than 1,000 dancers have worked in the show during its 34-year run. The showgirls in the stunning “Grand Jewel Box” show-stopping have to be able to wear the trademark feathered headdress, which weighs as much as 22 pounds.
The basement dressing rooms two flights below the stage mean dancers race up and down more than 1,700 stairs a night. They’ve been a class of their own standing at least 5’8” and as tall as 6’2.” They’re all natural, as breast enhancements are forbidden for showgirls in the spectacular.
“Jubilee” features 100 sets and backdrops with some 100,000 light bulbs and more than 125 miles of wiring. The stage is half the size of a football field — 190 feet long, 73 feet deep and 15 stories — able to host stunts, scenes and sequences that couldn’t be re-created on any other stage in the world.
Out of sight from the audience are three main double-decker elevators each with 100,000-pound lift capacity, six smaller elevators and two revolving elevators that help move dancers and sets. The nearly 35-year-old theater is no modern technical marvel, and in recent weeks two of those elevators stopped working and moved out of alignment. Replacement costs would be prohibitive, let alone the costs to close the structure for repair.
“Jubilee” was on its last legs. A closing and change was the only alternative.
A year ago Boyonce choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. was brought in to modernize the long-running show with an edgy, new look (during this time, the exclamation point was dropped from the title). It came off complicated and disjointed, but Gene’s new take and focus brought it back to life. However, repair and maintenance costs far exceed the box office.
Another production show, “Hallelujah Hollywood,” which ran for six years, preceded “Jubilee.” Incredibly, “Jubilee” almost never opened, so its 34-year run is truly impressive. My Las Vegas Sun colleague John Katsilometes told the story Friday of its last rehearsals just two weeks before opening when the old MGM Grand suffered a fire.
Overhead sprinklers and ash from the blaze ruined the costumes. Fluff and Donn had to be rescued by helicopter from the hotel’s roof. MGM toppers decided that its Bally’s hotel would take over the repaired and renamed property and that a MGM-branded hotel would move down to Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard.
In July 2011, “Jubilee” made entertainment history celebrating its 30th pearl anniversary. David Hoenemeyer at the time said: “We know a woman never likes to tell her age, but we are so proud of the showgirls turning 30. It’s an amazing feat. ‘Jubilee’ is a great example of how something unique, distinctive and extraordinary really never goes out of style. Big concerts and special events come and go in Las Vegas, but only one show outlived them all.”
JUBILEE is the only show in the United States where audiences can see the classic Las Vegas showgirl: a tall, trained dancer. The stats are staggering: 18,720 shows for more than 18 million guests. Legendary impresario Donn conceived, staged and directed the elaborate, retro-glam extravaganza.
“Jubilee” celebrates those striking showgirls in trademark bright-red lipstick and fishnets. Those legs that go on for miles go through 1,500 pairs of tights a year, thus more than 500,000 pairs in its first 30 years. Their heels are re-enforced with steel braces and rubber soles on the five pairs each they wear during a show.
Fluff said in a 2014 interview: “I don’t think you’ll ever see a show that uses showgirls the way ‘Jubilee’ does ever again. My sense is they will never produce another show like it. You might have shows with four or six, but not the same show as we used to have with dozens and dozens of showgirls.”
We say a fond farewell to “Jubilee.” She will be sadly missed after Feb. 11. But as with all things in Las Vegas show business, a new phoenix will arise from the ashes — and I hope the wonderful 34 years of memories won’t be forgotten.
(Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.)