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The tumultuous history of ‘Jubilee!’ gives it depth other shows lack

I went to see “Jubilee!” recently at Bally’s with an Elderhostel group, now called Road Scholars. I’ve seen that show at least a dozen times since it opened in 1981. You’d think I’d be tired of it. On the contrary, for me, it gets better and better.

The history of “Jubilee!” is tragic. The original show (sets and costumes) did not survive the MGM Grand fire of Nov. 21, 1980. The basement, where the sets, costumes and dressing rooms were housed, was totally full of water; nothing could be saved. No one from the show, which was two weeks away from its planned opening, was killed, but 85 others were. Donn Arden and Miss Bluebell, agent for most of the showgirls, were in guest rooms in the room tower and had to climb to the roof through the smoke and dark to wait for the incredible, heroic helicopter pilot, who hovered two feet away from the edge of the roof where Donn helped the older women jump the two feet before he followed to safety. Then there was the long, long wait, as insurance was collected and all the sets and costumes had to be redone from scratch.

Most of the cast chose to wait, but some dancers had gone on to new jobs, so they had to be recast and all the rehearsals had to be done over.

This is very confusing to new Las Vegans. Bally’s, where “Jubilee!” plays now, was called the MGM Grand. The MGM Corporation, which owned the building, renamed it Bally’s to escape the bad publicity and redid the front of the hotel completely, along with a total redecorating of the casino, shops and restaurants on the doomed ground floor and probably everything else as well.

It then built the current MGM Grand Hotel on the northeast corner of Tropicana Avenue and the Strip, where it is now.

While the fire was raging, my friend Jodie Sloat and I sat in the Sporting House on Paradise Road, where you could see the Strip through the windows, having lunch and watching the flames shoot out the windows of the hotel. We couldn’t figure any way to help.

“Jubilee!” is rather different now, 31 years later. It has been freshened up again, with a new and better sound, new shoes on everybody, costumes refurbished and many new cast members, but the best of the old ones were retained, except for Linda Green. I’m still mad about that. Top executives at Bally’s insisted she no longer looked 20 years old and ordered Fluff to replace her. Too late, everybody realized she wasn’t replaceable. Why do men think youth is the most important factor in the attractiveness of women? Don’t get me started.

Linda Green ( I do not know her personally) was named, along with me (isn’t it clever how I worked that in?) as one of the best showgirls of all time. But the outstanding Anthony Brown is still there, and he just gets better every year. I love telling people he is a Metro cop, but that is actually just the tip of the iceberg. He is also a kick-boxing champion!

He danced as a child in New York and auditioned for Donn Arden in Las Vegas in 1985. He was sent to Reno to do “Hello Hollywood Hello” for three years, and when that closed, he worked for Siegfried and Roy at the Frontier as a principal dancer. During that run, he tried out for and was trained as a Metro policeman. Then he auditioned for Samson in “Jubilee!” and also does other principal roles in the show, such as Mr. Debonair in the Gershwin number. He is a huge man but dances like a feather in “Putting on the Ritz.” I know what I’ve said about the majority of male dancers, but Anthony Brown is one of the exceptions.

Now he has become a kick-boxing champion. He goes to Thailand to do bare-knuckle kick-boxing, full contact, and wins. It’s kind of like the UFC over here.

Always smiling, unless in character, Brown has been on the day shift with Metro for 18 years for a total of 23 years of service. Now he is in the training division, teaching close contact fighting.

Last month he married one of the show’s lead showgirls.

I find this all just fascinating. Who knew? Go back and see “Jubilee!” again. It’s a refreshing change from the circus. And it’s what made Las Vegas Las Vegas. It’s kind of like going back to see the Mona Lisa again.

Jubilee! is forever.

Betty Bunch is a former dancer. Today, she works with the national Elderhostel Association. Contact her at bettybunch100@gmail.com.

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