‘Jubilee!’ poised to celebrate 30th anniversary

When "Jubilee!" opened in 1981 at the original MGM (now Bally’s), it was but one more Strip production with showgirls.

It did stand out among the others because it featured dozens of the bejeweled and feathered icons.

Now, on the eve of its 30th anniversary, "Jubilee!" not only stands out, it stands alone.

On Saturday , the show will officially celebrate 30 years on the Strip.

"It’s just gone by so fast," says Fluff LeCoque, the only company manager that the show has ever known. "So it’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years, because when we started, every hotel had a line of girls. Now it’s just us."

While showgirls have become strongly entrenched in iconic Vegas imagery, they have slowly vanished from the Strip over the years. In 2009, the last real competition to "Jubilee!" — "Les Folies Bergere" — closed after a 49-year run at the Tropicana. There are still shows featuring women dancers on the Strip, but they’re not classic showgirls, LeCoque notes.

In the theatrical world, a showgirl was a woman who paraded onstage in dazzling costumes with feathers and rhinestones, LeCoque says. They were tall and beautiful. Usually, they were topless because bodices or bras interfered with the line of the costume. Also, they didn’t dance.

"Jubilee!" performers are topless except during Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m.

Over the years, they added dancing to the showgirl’s responsibilities. All "Jubilee!" showgirls are trained dancers, but not all of the dancers are showgirls.

"Nowadays, people see any girl onstage, they call them showgirls," LeCoque says.

In some ways, the definition of showgirl is changing, says Blue Belle dance captain Cathy Colbert. She’s been in "Jubilee!" for four years.

"For me, personally, being a showgirl is bigger than yourself," Colbert says. "You’re part of an era that almost doesn’t exist anymore. Being the only show like this left, I hope it gives us longevity."

Created by producer Donn Arden, "Jubilee!" was conceived as a tribute to classic Hollywood musicals, a new take on his production "Hallelujah Hollywood!" that ran at the MGM until 1980.

But it almost didn’t happen. On Nov. 21, 1980, the day performers were set to rehearse for the first time with a live orchestra, a fire swept through the MGM Grand, now Bally’s, and 87 people died. The "Jubilee!" costumes, scenery and showroom were destroyed. Performers were released from their contracts and invited to come back once the show started rehearsals in April 1981.

"Jubilee!" assistant company manager Diane Palm has been with the show since day one. Before that, she performed in "Hallelujah Hollywood!"

With rehearsals for the new show held during the day and performances for "Hallelujah Hollywood!" at night, "I remember being very tired," she says.

The show has remained true to Arden’s original concept, though it has been fine-tuned along the way, Palm notes. Numbers have been trimmed and outdated material replaced. The cast, 127 strong at its largest, was scaled back to 85 in the late 1980s. The number of female principal dancers went from five to three in the mid-1980s, and the live orchestra was replaced with taped music after a musicians’ strike in 1989.

The last major change happened in 1997, when new costumes were introduced, Palm says. Twenty new costumes, designed by original costume designer Pete Manafee, will be introduced in the anniversary performance Saturday .

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@review journal.com or 702-380-4564.

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