"One girl is boring/And two are obscene." That's the operative philosophy of Donn Arden's Jubilee!, the only Las Vegas show where you can ogle 56 - count 'em - bare breasts at any given time. If want to see topless showgirls in Vegas, Jubilee! offers the best breasts-per-dollar value, both in price and quantity. "Nobody can do girls and gimmicks like me," creator Arden once claimed, and Jubilee! delivers on both scores.
It's important to get that out of the way up front, as it were, since Jubilee!'s ace in the bosom is the infinite shape and variety of la belle poitrine on display. Premiered in 1981, Jubilee! is an unabashed tribute to the old "follies" revues and has been offering New York-sized spectacle long before Vegas impresarios attempted to reinvent the Strip as "Broadway West." (In one of the show's few self-aware touches, "Beautiful Girls" from Stephen Sondheim's Follies, a requiem for old Broadway, is interpolated into the grand finale.) With 85 onstage performers and a backstage crew of 50, this is probably the most personnel-intensive on the Strip now and for the foreseeable future. It may be an anachronism, but what stupendous curio it is.
One of Jubilee!'s few obvious concessions to affordability is its use of a pre-recorded score (although the singing is mostly "live;" close proximity to a Sunday-night performance last August caught some errant lip-synching and a distinct note of fatigue). The arrangements - taped back in 1997 -- with their brassy, harp-laden timbres, fairly shout, "Vegas!" Yes, you're in the land where showgirls trail feather boas and are crowned with yard-tall headdresses, some of which weigh 35 pounds.
The visual aesthetic and many of the song choices - "The Lady is a Tramp," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" - ground Jubilee! firmly in mid-20th century America, with the occasional field trip to Studio 54. Surely, one thinks, some parts of the show have to have been conceived with tongue in cheek. And yet everything is played with so much sincerity that if Jubilee! is camp, it's an unintentional sort. You either surrender to its sheer extravagance and nostalgic appeal or will feel completely detached. It's difficult to imagine holding a middle-ground view.
There is surely nothing on the Strip funnier than Jubilee!'s "Samson and Delilah" segment, cheese of the Grade-A variety. It doesn't even blush to incorporate bastardized versions of the big tunes from Saint-Saens' opera of the same title, in arrangements that are pure Charlie's Angels. The stage-filling spectacle is Cecil B. DeMille plus tits and thongs. Samson flexes his pecs and brings down a temple full of infidels at the end, although - in an un-biblical gloss - he lives to fight again.
The "Sinking of the Titanic" set piece is comparably bizarre: mass tragedy meets Mame. A series of extramarital flirtations and seductions steam things up until that spoilsport iceberg comes along and puts a damper on the proceedings. The costuming here is lavish even by Jubilee! standards, but it pays to watch this part from the cheap(er) seats: The great ship's descent beneath the waves looks more convincing when viewed from a distance. The Titanic's demise segues into, of all things, a patriotic kick line, typifying Jubilee!'s mix of weirdness and naivete.
Outstanding among the choreographic numbers is a fan dance, set to "Begin the Beguine" (underlaid with the rhythm of Ravel's Bolero). Better still is an atmospheric, gorgeously lit - by Broadway's Ken Billington -- Fred Astaire tribute which brings a touch of androgyny to Jubilee! It features 56 male and female dancers, all in matching, tailored tuxedos - and those girls never looked sexier than when in white tie and tails. Less persuasive is a George Gershwin medley set again a backdrop of what appear to be sequin-studded hubcaps.
All of this and the giant numbers that bookend Jubilee! is made possible by industrial-strength stage machinery. Side stages, multiple elevators, staircase upon mirrored staircase - every inch of the 190-foot-wide performing space is brought into play. So that the patrons at the rear of the house (in which there's not a bad seat to be had) get an up-close view of showgirl splendors, bridges descend from the flies for both the opening number and the finale, bringing the singing and dancing out into the middle of the auditorium.
It's a triumph of stagecraft, thanks to Arden and a team of designers headed by Ray Klausen. Frequent recasting and re-rehearsal also insures that Jubilee! won't fade in the manner of the Tropicana's bygone Folies Bergere. (Harrah's Entertainment does allow that the current version of Jubilee! is trimmed somewhat from its original length.)
Of course, there are literally hundreds of costume changes to be made and sets to be shifted. Therefore, Jubilee! is punctuated with old-fashioned entr'actes. On this particular occasion, there were three. The first was a juggler whose set ran so long is threatened to become a show in itself. He was followed by a pair of contortionists in Sixties space-age getup. Their act, set to "beach party" music was of such weirdness that words cannot do it justice. The last interlude featured an acrobat flying about in quasi-angelic fashion. This segment was the most impressive of the three, due to its incorporation of physical danger.
Jubilee! may be more your dad's Las Vegas than yours. But take a good look because, once it's gone, its like will never be seen on the Strip again.
Donn Arden's Jubilee!
7:30 & 10:30 p.m., Sat.-Thurs.
Bally's Las Vegas
3645 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
$64.25, $83.55 & $104.33