Unlike many of my gay peers, I must confess at the outset that I have never been a big fan of Broadway or large productions. So when I saw that we were scheduled for a behind the scene look at “Jubilee,” Las Vegas’ longest running showgirl production, I was not terribly excited. But when we arrived at the theater, we were greeted by an incredibly charming showgirl named Julie, who spent the next 90 minutes opening my eyes and mind to appreciate how spectacular “Jubilee!” really is.
After taking us into the beautiful 1,000-seat red velvet theater, Julie took us back to the beginning of Jubilee in 1979. The show was brought to Vegas by Don Arden as “Lido de Paris” and it has been running for 32 years ever since. Arden got his start, and the idea for Jubilee, as a performer at the “Lido” in Paris. After returning to the U.S., Arden conceived and choreographed the show. It has been voted as having the “Best Las Vegas Showgirls” every year since 2000.
The elegant rhinestone and gem covered costumes were designed by Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee 32 years ago at the cost of $7,000 – $9,000 each ($22,000 – $30,000 in today’s cost per costume). The headdresses and jeweled costumes in today’s shows are the original costumes from ’79. Each rhinestone or gem is cut on a diamond wheel with multiple facets and placed in a four prong setting, and then sewn onto the 1,000+ costumes. The female costumes have from 1,000 to 4,000 rhinestones each. The men’s vests have 600 – 700 rhinestones. In fact, the maker of the rhinestones, Swarovski, was saved from bankruptcy in 1979 because of Jubilee’s and Liberace’s rhinestone orders. In addition to rhinestones, the costumes include a variety of gems such as sapphires, emeralds, amethysts, rubies, and white diamonds. The showgirls are never completely nude because they are always dripping in jewelery, but they are not allowed to have a tan-line or show piercings or tattoos. The complete costumes can weigh up to 35 pounds.
There are 85 performers – 60 female and 25 male. There are no weigh-ins, but there are height minimums. Females must be at least 5′ 10″ in stocking feet, while males must be at least 5′ 11″. The height requirements are a reflection of the shear size of the theater and its sets. The performers need to be as tall as possible otherwise the stage and sets would overwhelm them. Every performer is under a 6 month contract and must re-audition for their position every 6 months. This keeps them on their toes and on top of their game.
The stage is 15 stories high (about 200 feet top to bottom) and half the length of a football field. This massive stage requires massive sets. The largest set weighs four tons with one part of it weighing one ton alone. To move and manage all the sets, the stage has 11 elevators including the three large center elevators, a series of side elevators which can slide over the main center elevators when they are lowered, and two circular elevators on the wings of the stage which can rise and lower, but also spin.
During the show, at times all the cast members may be performing while parts of the stage are moving up/down or sideways, and they have to be careful not to misstep when an elevator (part of the stage) is down or they will fall 20 feet. When the show was launched, it was the most technologically advanced stage in the world. Even today, 32 years later, it is recognized as the third most advanced production stage. Just as it was when the show opened, many of the backdrops are operated by ropes and pulleys, and the alignment of the elevators (needed to create a smooth and level stage) is still done visually by the elevator operator. Because of the number of backdrops needed, most of the lights for the stage are not above the performers, but rather above the audience. An interesting side note is that because of this lighting system, performers can actually see large portions of the audience, including some of the gestures made by people in the audience.
Dressing rooms are located in the basement below the stage and performers have only between two and eight minutes to leave the state, go downstairs, change, go upstairs, and position themselves on the stage for the next number. The performers have calculated that they must go up and down 1,000 – 1,500 steps during each of the two nightly performances.
The show is in Balleys Resort and is open 52 weeks of the year on every day except Friday when it is closed/dark. The show is not one story, but a variety of seven short stories which include two epic tales – the story of “Samson and Delilah” and the sinking of the Titanic. The show has not changed much over time. The opening number was changed in 1995 when most Vegas shows reduced their performances from two hours with an intermission, to 90 minutes without an intermission. This new 8 minute long opening number cost over $1.5 million as new costumes were needed, music rights had to be obtained, choreography had to be changed, and new sets were built.
Take the Tour
You can take the same “All Access Backstage Walking Tour” we had, and I highly recommend it. The cost is between $12 & $17 depending on whether you have tickets to the show. I’d recommend that you take the tour first and then see the show. I think you’ll appreciate the shear wonder of the show even more if you have taken the tour first. At the end of the tour, you will watch a showgirl transform her face into that of a “Vegas Showgirl.” The tour has lots of appeal whether your interest lies in the costumes, technology, history, or the beauty of the showgirls – you won’t be disappointed.