Monday, Aug. 3, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- What: Donn Arden’s “Jubilee!”
- When: 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday-Thursday
- Where: Jubilee! Theater at Bally’s
- Admission: $52.50-$112.50; 634-3434, ballyslasvegas.com
- Running time: 90 minutes
- Audience advisory: The 7:30 p.m. show on Saturday is covered (not topless)
- Jubilee!, the Strip's longest-running show, reaches 28 years (7-31-2009)
- Past's last reflection (7-30-2009)
- Venerable 'Jubilee!' shows no signs of flagging at Bally's (9-3-2004)
- 'Jubilee' a quintessential Las Vegas production (12-18-1998)
- Refurbished 'Jubilee' a real treat (7-11-1997)
How to convey the contradictory feelings provoked by “Jubilee!,” the wonderfully awful, terribly terrific, 28-year-old Las Vegas showgirl spectacular at Bally’s?
• The sort of show I imagined I’d be seeing all the time in Las Vegas, with squadrons of showgirls carefully descending mirrored staircases while balancing colossal feathered headdresses. Sadly, it’s the last of its kind.
• One of the inspirations for Bette Midler’s “The Showgirl Must Go On” across the street at Caesars Palace. At half the price for a decent seat, “Jubilee!” makes Midler’s showgirl homage look drab and tasteful in comparison.
• Also the apparent inspiration for “Showgirls,” universally acclaimed as one of the worst-best movies ever made. But the gaudy, grandiose production numbers in “Jubilee!” are thrillingly, appallingly, hilariously, endearingly real. I thought my colleague was kidding when he told me the sinking of the “Titanic” is reenacted onstage.
• A total time warp: Think “The Lawrence Welk Show” (or “The Love Boat”) with breasts. The closest it comes to the past millennium is mid-70s discorobics. Clean-cut fellas and begowned gals croon (and more often than not pantomime) show tunes and standards to loud but innocuously orchestrated prerecorded tracks. For best results, try to erase a half-century’s worth of irony and cynicism from your consciousness. Just have fun.
• Ostensibly a “topless” revue, and it does in fact deliver dozens of (eerily identical) bare breasts. But the effect — multiple blank-eyed, grinning Stepford-clone mannequins — is oddly heatless and anesthetic.
• Not just populated by showgirls, by the way. They don’t show them in the TV ads and billboards, but there are also often about two-dozen nearly nekkid guys dominating the stage.
• The single gayest show I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a dozen Pride parades in San Francisco. Eyebrows plucked to a near nonexistence, the aforementioned chorus boys do back bends in studded leather jockstraps in more than one set piece. And I swear a couple of the guys doubled as gals in the Titanic segment. Sporting Furby-scale eyelashes and Bozo lipliner, some of the showgirls are less convincing as females than Frank Marino’s “La Cage” posse.
• Home to a handful of entertaining specialty acts, most notably a pair of metallicized male gymnasts, bald, silvery supermen who perform feats of Vegas-ized yoga (including an astonishing slo-mo forward fall) and look like twin Bond villains or Oscar statues in a fight to the death.
• A living shrine to costume designer Bob Mackie, famous for Cher’s most outre get-ups. Mackie’s Erte-inspired fantasias, sequined carwash skirts and serpentine minidresses actually outdo Cher’s wardrobe and might inspire envious insecurity in Bjork.
•The stage for a topless wedding scene in which the gravity-defying bride sports a sci-fi orbital corona, while the fully clad groom croons “I Married an Angel.”
• A gaudy homage to the “more everything!” styles of such great stage and screen directors as Flo Ziegfield, Busby Berkeley and Irwin Allen. The late producer/choreographer Donn Arden gave himself above-the-title billing, and gave showgirls every sort of Big Entrance you can imagine: Frequently multiplied by mirrors, they descend on swings, pop from peek-a-boo balconies, and shimmer and shimmy down heavenly stairways. “Jubilee!” is pretty much all entrances, come to think of it.
• Jaw-droppingly random and rampantly campy, zigging from Rockettes-style kicklines to patriotic, Branson-ready tap dancers, and zagging to the Samson and Delilah story, reenacted in Cecil B. DeMille Biblical epic style — climaxing with a hunky Samson tearing down a temple, finally crushed under a gigantic demon head with blazing red eyes.
• Putting Spinal Tap to shame.
• The last stand of a glorious Old Vegas style of showbiz, now that “Folies Bergere” has left the building.
• A small economy in itself: “Jubilee!” employs more than 100 dancers, singers and technicians, including people who keep the feathers fluffed and rhinestones sparkling.
• Apparently not doing so well, business-wise: On Tuesday night ushers were handing out free tickets to the show at the bottom of the Bally’s escalators.
• Utter escapism and a timeless civic treasure.