Bryan Steffy / WireImage
Sunday, March 30, 2014 | 7:38 p.m.
Fret not, “Jubilee” fans: The high kicks, the topless beauties, the terrific tap dancing, the feathers and the outrageous headdresses are all still there in the reimagined version of the 30-plus-year-old show that reopened Saturday night at Bally’s.
The Samson & Delilah and Titanic showstoppers are still intact, but they’ve been restaged with a high-energy, enthusiastic feel to the rejuvenated production. The Las Vegas legend has been redefined in less than three months!
What once appeared dated and tired has been refreshed: It’s now bigger, modern and up-to-date with different dances — some are contemporary jazz — more appealing costumes — many of the hideous yesteryear prom tuxedos have been banished — sexier moves and new music and songs.
Yet what Donn Arden debuted on July 31, 1981, is still revered and respected as the ultimate rhinestones revue.
Director and choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. confronted his own “collagen and Botox” challenge head on to pull off a coup by cleverly weaving a first-time storyline about the old “Jubilee!” and the changed “Jubilee” (the exclamation point is gone!) into the spectacular.
Now there’s razzle dazzle, and the show flows with singers and dancers in front of the curtain instead of staccato variety acts from days of old. It’s punched home with new male and female solo R&B singers. Don’t let them go because they underscore the fact that it’s a new show with a new feel.
“Jubilee” is still the original classic, noting that “talent is a gift, and beauty is a blessing” in a nod to the legends of Cyd Charisse, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe — for the dancers moving from the old show to the new, the storyline reminds that “it’s the magic of what’s inside you and that real strength comes from within.”
“I’m really nervous. My mom is here,” Frank told me. “She’s seen all of my stuff, but I’ve told her this was the most difficult thing I ever tackled in my life. Las Vegas is a different animal. There could only be one chef in the kitchen. People sometimes get in their own way here.
“I came here being very honest — passionate about what I was doing. I promised the kids in the show that I’d give of my best for them. I will still be here for another two or three months polishing the show.
“Donn Arden did a great show back then. He had a big budget then, so it’s hard for me to come in and not mess it up. It’s the last of the showgirl revues, and that’s a big honor to follow. Hopefully, I’ve let the people know what the showgirl is.
“I know we’re going to get new fans because of people who like my Beyonce work, my Rihanna work. They’ll want to see what’s up with this. Now we’re having a party — a celebration, and nobody is falling asleep anymore! I’m excited with what it’s become. What was old is now new again, and the cast is very engaged with it.
“Before, the show was at 2 hours. Now we’re cut down to 1 hour 37 minutes. Las Vegas crowds don’t want to stay in the same room longer. It was hard to cut 23 minutes off the show to make it roar. It had to be done because people want to get back to partying. Now we have them partying in the showroom.”
Celebrity guests from talk-show host and singer Queen Latifah to Olympic great Carl Lewis were among the star crowd moving, grooving and cheering the modern makeover and talented transformation. The all-new video and projections drive home the fact that this is a different show with a definite music-video vigor.
The rhinestone-covered, head-to-toe gold bodysuits with neon-message glasses sparkled from a Michael Jackson movie set, and the caged vixens could raise the temperatures in Beyonce’s next video. Frank has been her creative director since the days of Destiny’s Child.
The “A Star Is Born” spotlight fell on 27-year-old dancer Brooke Brown, a former Iowa farm girl whose dream of showbiz success blossomed Saturday night in her new role as Catherine Jubilee. Her first appearance at the top of the show tells you Jubilee is now an acrobatic, athletic animal with a knockout punch. She explodes onstage to “Take Back the Night,” sliding down a 45-foot-tall showgirl pole — “It’s not a stripper pole,” she laughingly told me later.
Brooke has an uncanny resemblance to a young Audrey Hepburn from “Breakfast at Tiffany. “It’s my favorite movie, and everybody tells me I look like her,” she said. She’s been with the show since 2007 and worked her way up to become a principal dancer for five years and then the face of “Jubilee!” on billboards. Frank chose her to be his new starring lead.
“Before the changes, Frank came to watch the show many times,” she told me. “I didn’t know he was out there or that the changes would happen. He spotted me in the show and decided that I was the girl. It took him a long time to tell me, but he said the minute he saw me, I was the girl to play Miss Jubilee.
“I come from the farms of Iowa to Las Vegas to being the star of an amazing show. It’s so overwhelming, flattering, to get the opportunity to sustain the legend of the Las Vegas showgirl.
“That’s me right at the very first moment of the show — mighty tall, 45 feet high up above the stage. I’ve been taking lessons. I’d never done the pole before — it’s a showgirl pole, not a stripper pole! It’s actually very difficult, and I respect anybody who can do it because it’s such an acrobatic art. I’m happy doing it, and I hope I make it look beautiful and sensual and classy.
“I love this new show, and I am so excited for its future.”
Brooke, a stepmom, is married to retired Las Vegas police Officer Anthony Brown, a former “Jubilee!” dancer for 20 years who played Samson from 2002 until 2011.
“Now he gets to see me playing this awesome role. Maybe we’ll find a place for him to come back one day!
“This is all a dream come true. When I was studying dance, I knew that I would wind up in Las Vegas. I’m tall. I’m 5’9.” I knew that I’d find a steady performing career in Las Vegas and do what I love doing every single night dancing for an audience. That was always my goal when I first moved here when I was 21. But I never thought that this would happen in my wildest dreams.”
“Jubilee” still ends with its staggering and stunning original, yet updated finale of all 85 happy cast members balancing their burlesque talents on the historic mirrored staircase.
Which is why Frank shelled out $100 to each cast member — totaling $8,500 — from his own pocket after the curtain came down. He explained to me: “They are dancing very hard for me. They’re caring about what they’re doing now. I made a deal with all 85 of them.
“I’m giving every one of them $100 for doing a good job tonight. They’re holding me to it. I know that I’m paying it because they didn’t let me down.”
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.
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