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November 19, 2018

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To the finale, ‘Jubilee’ was in a class by itself

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John Katsilometes

Longtime “Jubilee” company manager Fluff LeCoque is shown as a young dancer during a video tribute before the final performance of “Jubilee” on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, at Bally’s.

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Showgirls have a way of crying. The tears fall and flow, but the smiles are ever-radiant. The look on the faces of those elegant women and, yes, the oft-overloooked showboys was one of poise and dignity as “Jubilee” closed Thursday night after a 34-year run at Bally’s.

The cast members cried for one another, stagehands and many former performers in the show who reunited for that final presentation. They cried as they recalled fighting adversity over the final few months of the production’s run when it was clear that it was not going to survive, and they cried as they remembered the show’s original company manager, Fluff LeCoque.

Long the caretaker of the show, and even the image of the showgirl image, LeCoque died Dec. 10 at age 92, just two days before the impending demise of the show was announced.

In one of the most inspired moments you will see on a Las Vegas stage, a videomontage honoring LeCoque was played just before the start of the show, introduced by her protégé and the woman who took over her duties in the production, Diane Palm, and Caesars Entertainment exec Gene Lubas. LeCoque was shown in her youth, terrifically glamorous as a dancer in “Lido de Paris” at the Thunderbird hotel-casino in Las Vegas, and throughout her life until she assumed a management role with Arden’s operation.

At the end of the tribute, the crowd gave LeCoque, whose gaze seemed to hang over the show, a final standing ovation.

“There will never be another show like this” is a universal epitaph repeated by every person connected to “Jubilee” whom I’ve spoken with over the past several days and again Thursday night. More than one original member of the production said the show had changed so much over the years that it was not close to the splendor of the version that rolled out July 31, 1980.

Among those making that point were one of the first male vocalists in the show, Dennis Casey Park, who flew in from Shanghai for the finale. Same for two of the individuals who brought those grandiose costumes to the stage, legendary designer Bob Mackie and Diana Eden, who helped develop all those amazing costumes with Mackie and Pete Menefee. Eden, who has just finished work on the new “Jason Bourne” film set in Las Vegas, was one who was in tears at the end of the show.

“It’s just such an emotionally difficult time,” she said at the show’s end. “It is really the end of an era.”

She trumpeted the feelings of many longtime “Jubilee” performers who packed the 1,100-seat Jubilee Theater one last time.

“It’s been hard to watch it close because this isn’t the show we knew,” Park said at the show’s after-party at a ballroom at adjoining Paris Las Vegas. “But It’s great to celebrate what it has meant and to see many people I have not seen in more than 30 years.”

Appearing customarily debonair in a black jacket and blue-striped shirt, Mackie took in the show for the first time in years. He was not in favor of a recent revamp of the production to make the showgirl a more contemporary figure.

“You can’t go contemporary because you have to change the whole show,” Mackie said minutes after the curtain closed for the final time. “You have to change all of the costumes. You have to change everything, and that’s never been the point of ‘Jubilee.’ It’s an old-fashioned, tits-and-feathers show that we loved doing. It was of its time, certainly.”

What will become of the showgirl? It’s the magic question surrounding the closing of “Jubilee,” the last remaining grand-scale show that is a destination for that art form.

“I don’t know. I don’t think the showgirl shows exist anymore. They don’t exist like we know them, not at all,” he said. “I hope we see it again, but I doubt it.”

There has been ample debate about how to advance showgirl artistry in Las Vegas in the face of “Jubilee’s” closing. The consensus has been the medium can still draw an audience healthy enough to support a couple of dozen dancers and a more streamlined production.

But at Bally’s, the theater needs an overhaul, and the entire operation would have to be taken down and built anew. The costumes are still property of the hotel, stored now in the pit beneath the famed “Jubilee” stage. The great sets from the Samson and Titanic numbers also are stowed away.

Word from Lubas is that the hotel is looking for a “Jubilee-esque” show that would be produced by someone with very deep pockets, a vivid imagination, progressive attitudes and respect for “feather shows.” Not a long list of candidates for such a show, and the theater might well host some one-off headliner performances as it sorts out a new tenant in the theater.

The performers in “Jubilee” will doubtless splinter. Vocalist Ashley Fuller is a prominent performer in “Alice — A Steampunk Rock Concert,” playing Brooklyn Bowl again Feb. 24. Married couple Ron and Alex Remke are already booked — he with a date with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and she as a cast member in “Tournament of Kings” at Excalibur. Dancer Jessica Lane is off to work for a marketing company in L.A.

Otherwise, these dancers, 64 in all supported by a crew of about 160 stagehands who manage the sets and costumes, are part of the show’s rich history. I’ve long said that “Jubilee” should be protected by the public trust and designated as a state historical landmark, performed maybe once a month to serve as a reminder of the golden era of the showgirl in Las Vegas. But the idea of preserving the show even in that unlikely capacity is as folly as reviving “Folies Bergere.”

Nonetheless, say this about “Jubilee”: It was beautiful and beautifully performed to the very end. Time may have passed for the showgirl spectacle in Las Vegas, but elegance and class will never go out of style. And that is the epitaph for “Jubilee,” may she rest in peace.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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