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November 26, 2014

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Venerable ‘Jubilee!’ shows no signs of flagging at Bally’s

Costumes are the real stars of "Jubilee!," the spectacular topless revue that continues to awe fans in its 23rd year at Bally's. Breasts are relegated to playing supporting roles.

Some might call the attire too flashy, vulgar, perhaps even tasteless -- but no one can argue that it takes ostentation to new heights.

Millions of dollars worth of ostrich feathers, boas, gowns, sequins, rhinestones and G-strings -- a few bucks are saved on bras -- overshadow the chests paraded across the stage during this quintessential Las Vegas production.

"Jubilee!" is the kind of show that helped create the Vegas myth and its showgirl legacy. Hopefully it will be around for a few more years to keep the myth alive and give future generations a taste of old Las Vegas.

But with the constant arrival of more contemporary productions -- such as "We Will Rock You," "Blue Man Group," "Zumanity," "Mamma Mia!" and others -- one wonders how much longer "Jubilee!" and its counterpart at the Tropicana, "Folies Bergere," can last.

Credit goes to geniuses Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee for their brilliant costume designs, which manage to actually distract your attention from the semi-nudity of dozens of the Strip's most beautiful showgirls.

Credit also goes to the late Donn Arden for creating an enduring show that somehow successfully manages to take a tale from the Bible (the story of Samson and Delilah) and one of the world's great tragedies (the sinking of the Titanic) and set them in the middle of a topless revue.

It's one of those "only in Vegas" things. Sort of like the skimpy red, white and blue costumes worn by female performers in a patriotic number during "Air Play," a free show in the casino at the Tropicana. You aren't likely to see this kind of entertainment anywhere else.

Before creating the classic "Jubilee!," Arden was best known for bringing "Lido de Paris" to the Stardust in 1959, one of the first topless shows in town. He was known for his elaborate sets and lavish costumes.

Associate producer Fluff LaCoque and director/choreographer Tom Hansen (assisted by Diane Palm and choreographers Winston Hemsley and Rich Rizzo) are keeping Arden's memory alive with this breathtakingly colorful production.

"Samson and Delilah" and "Titanic" are the centerpieces of the Arden extravaganza, which includes the sinking of the ship and the destruction of a temple. Both events are expensive, and impressive, staging feats.

Last month the 10-millionth guest, John Rakoske of Massachusetts, watched the Titanic sink and the temple tumble. He and his wife, Connie, won a three-night stay in a Bally's suite, spa services and meals -- and lifetime tickets to "Jubilee!"

The approximately 100-minute production includes seven acts, the first an elaborate pageant featuring the entire cast singing, dancing and strutting around the stage showing off the colorful costumes and the shapely showgirls.

If you are too young to have seen a Busby Berkeley musical movie from the '30s and '40s, this act in "Jubilee!" will give you a taste of what your parents and grandparents enjoyed.

The production includes three specialty acts, performers whose role is to keep the audience busy while sets and costumes are being changed.

In between the opening and Samson and Delilah, the Long Twins (two Chinese brothers) entertained fans with a contortionist routine. Other featured performers included Stoyan & Dmitri, who performed a thrilling aerial act using drapes, and jugglers Nick and Alex.

The Finale is a highlight of the show, returning to its Busby Berkeley-like roots to pay tribute to the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the music of Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

Perhaps if the producers ever tire of sinking the Titanic and giving Samson a haircut, they will do more with the tribute aspect of the production.

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