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December 20, 2014

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Q+A: Frank Gatson Jr. adds ‘the collagen and Botox’ to revamped ‘Jubilee!’ at Bally’s

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Denise Truscello/DeniseTruscello.net

“Jubilee!” at Bally’s photographed by Denise Truscello in May and June of 2011 for the show’s 30th anniversary on The Strip.

Jubilee! 30th Anniversary Exhibit by Denise Truscello

Jubilee! at Bally's photographed by Denise Truscello in May and June of 2011 for the show's 30th anniversary on The Strip. Launch slideshow »

Jubilee! 30th Anniversary Pink Carpet and Show

The 30th anniversary performance of Jubilee! at Bally's Las Vegas on July 30, 2011. Launch slideshow »

New “Jubilee!” at Bally’s director and choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. confirmed Monday night that 20 cast members have been added to the new-look and reimagined show that opens for previews next Monday.

He also deleted the long-standing front-of-the-curtain acts and created a new form of audience entertainment while the sets are maneuvered onstage and offstage behind them.

And in a quote that will live forever in my mind, he told me: “This show has been a tradition for 30 years, so I’m adding in the collagen and Botox!”

Frank, who is the creative director for Beyonce and a Grammy Award nominee for his music videos, ran the new “Jubilee!” in its entirety for the first time Monday night.

Photographer Denise Truscello shot a superb 30th anniversary exhibit in early summer 2011. The legendary show went dark Jan. 30 for Frank’s two-month overhaul.

Here’s a YouTube clip of Vegas.com’s behind-the-scenes look at “Jubilee!”

My first interview with Frank was posted on Feb. 4. His plan was to take original producer Donn Arden’s vision of the classic and reinvigorate, re-energize, upgrade and modernize it.

When his friends The Jackson Brothers opened their new show “Rocktellz & Cocktails” at Planet Hollywood last month, Frank treated 100 of his cast and crew to see the show.

“I wanted my team to understand how veterans still have the passion and the energy,” he said.

Here’s our Q+A on Monday in the Jubilee! Theater amid all the tension, anxiety, drama and excitement of the first full run-through.

“It’s a big responsibility to mess with something that’s been around that long. It’s nerve wracking, but I’m confident that I’ve got a good vision. When you have a lot of history, there’s a lot of politics with everybody wanting me to do something their certain way.

“Changes bring resistance, but I have to do it — that’s why they brought me in. The challenges just come with the territory. It’s a big challenge — many of them, in fact — but we’ll be ready for opening night in a week’s time.

“Right now we’re going through dry techs and trying to get all the stage crew to learn the new moves. I haven’t reached the point where I can see it all move nonstop yet until now, tonight. We finally got the stage crew to learn it in its entirety. Those sets are really old — going back three decades. It’s not automated like we know it now, so it’s a lot of work.

“It takes 50 people to move a set sometimes to stage a whole scene, so changing that choreography has been hard because these guys have been doing the same moves and sets the last 30 years. Everybody from our dancers to our stage crew union guys have been asking, ‘Why is this guy coming here and making us change the way we do things?’ But it had to happen because of how the show’s going to flow now.

“This is the first nonstop run-through with everybody knowing all the new staging, new lighting, new programming of the projectors. And remember we have new cast members, too, at least 20 new people.”

Jubilee! WARNING: NUDITY

I guess you can’t help but ruffle feathers when you deleted some of the segments and inserted new ones?

In a nutshell, I am the bad guy coming in. I was really sympathetic as I worked systematically through the show from start to finish. I loved what the side acts did, especially the guy swinging on the fabric. He was great to me, but as I thought about it, we have the Cirque shows in town, and they’re so amazing with what they do with their acrobatics.

I felt like we couldn’t compete with that, so let me do what we’re supposed to be about, and that’s the gorgeous showgirls, the great synchronized dancing and the wonderful singing. So I figured that my flow of the show should be about that and not try to compete with Cirque doing their productions all over town. Our side acts had begun to look like mini macro versions, so I took those away and wove that part into the flow of the show.

They used to be in front of the curtain while your crew shifted sets into place behind it.

Right, so I discovered a way to makes things still happen behind but have something more interesting that still stays in the concept of the showgirl theme. You’ll see. That’s the stuff I’m excited about because that’s brand spanking new stuff, completely new to the Strip, and audiences should now really enjoy those sections because that’s completely new and different, and it flows rather than stops the show.

The two most memorable scenes are the Titanic sinking and the Samson and Delilah collapsing scenery. Do we still have them?

They are there but upgraded with new things. Think of it as me putting collagen and Botox into the set! How about that? It’s all done with the projectors that I put completely new into the show.

So the old is instantly recognizable but with a new look and new legs.

Correct. It has a new life and new legs, exactly. I just want people to come see it for themselves. Just show up to see how the old is all new again. Las Vegas is a different animal than 30 years ago. I want my show to have that real feel-good feeling.

I saw you for the opening night of The Jackson Brothers at Planet Hollywood. We saw the audience up out of their seats singing and dancing. They didn’t have a big, elaborate production, but they got everybody to have a good time with their honesty and enthusiasm.

You’ve been to Britney Spears’ shows, and they are out of their seats there, too, singing along and dancing. That’s the reaction that show business is all about. I took all my cast, all 100 people from “Jubilee!,” to see The Jacksons’ show, and it was such a great field trip for them all out of their seats dancing and singing.

The feeling was amazing. It was a good time for my cast, and now they all know they, too, can have a good time and get our audiences to have a good time. That’s my goal, and we’ll achieve that. It will be the new, incredible “Jubilee!” show.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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