Seeing "Jubilee!" on stage at Bally's is one thing, but experiencing the "Jubilee!" All Access Backstage Walking Tour provides a whole different perspective on the show.
Since 1981, "Jubilee!" has dazzled visitors from all over the world. One of the Las Vegas Strip's longest-running productions, "Jubilee!" has proved to be more than just a topless show. People also come to see the stunning costumes, remarkable headdresses and lively dance routines. From a spectacular Samson and Delilah number to a dramatic Titanic scene, "Jubilee!" captures the nostalgia of old Las Vegas shows.
To gain true appreciation for "Jubilee!," the backstage tour is your golden ticket. Hosted by one of the show's charismatic cast members, a "Jubilee!" dancer takes guests on an in-depth look at costumes, props, headdresses and much more.
"It gives a good insight about the costumes and the amount of work that's put in making up a show like "Jubilee!," said dancer Paula Allen, who has been with the show for 11 years. "We make it look so easy on stage, but it really is a production to keep it going. It involves so many people."
Before heading backstage, the dancer gives a brief history of the show, including humorous personal experiences. Allen, who started out as a bluebell (covered) dancer, didn't dance topless right away. While going semi-nude may be a bit intimidating, Allen said there was something more fearful than that.
"First time I was topless was on the chandelier in the finale," said Allen. "I'm afraid of heights [so] being topless was not an issue!"
Funny mishaps can also happen during a show. Sometimes a dancer's heel can get stuck between elevator gaps on stage. "Anything can happen," said Allen. "Maybe a wig can be ripped off. It's happened to me!"
Even if you're not into shopping or flipping through style magazines, one thing is certain: after watching the show and taking the tour, you will leave with a strong appreciation for fashion.
Some of these bedazzled costumes, in beautiful colors including turquoise, emerald green and sparkling sapphire, can weigh as much as 35 pounds. During the tour, visitors can pick up a costume and get an idea of how much weight dancers carry on stage. The heaviest costume is a feather "backpack," which weighs an astounding 35 pounds.
In the dressing room, the tour guide shows several of the legendary Bob Mackie-designed outfits. Out of all the different costumes, Allen loves her bride costume the most.
"It has the wings, the beautiful rhinestones and the halo," she said. "It's definitely a number that the crowd remembers."
The tour also includes a trip to the wardrobe crew room, where visitors can see the workers in action.
"This is where the magic is made," said Allen. "This is the core of 'Jubilee!'"
This crew handles everything from laundry to costume maintenance, sequin stitching and alterations. Because fishnet stockings rip on a daily basis, the wardrobe team can spend as many as 13 hours a day mending them.
"The costume shop is in continuous production," said Donna London, wardrobe manager for "Jubilee!" "We have added new complete sets of costumes each year for the past five years."
The wardrobe crew often takes rhinestones from old costumes and reuses them. But some of the oldest pieces still have a spot on stage. Delilah's rhinestone crown is 27 years old.
In addition to its gorgeous, sparkling costumes, "Jubilee!" is also known for its huge collection of headdresses. Featuring virtually every color imaginable, the head¬dress room is like stepping into a crayon box full of feathers. These feathers come from all sorts of birds, including ostriches and vultures. Visitors are encouraged to take pictures of all the vibrant pieces.
The wardrobe team orders from the American Plume and Fancy Feather out of New York City.
"They dye them to our specifications," said London. "It can take three to four weeks to build a headdress. Each feather has to be wired then branched very much like a flower arrangement."
While some of the heavier headdresses weigh as much as 20 pounds, Allen said it only takes about a day to get used to wearing them. "It just becomes part of you on stage," she noted. "It's the strangest thing. It just becomes a part of your body."
Keeping up with "Jubilee!"
Since these showgirls don some of the prettiest headdresses and costumes in town, keeping a fabulous physique is highly important.
"You have to warm up and take good care of your body," Allen said.
With all the different stair numbers, these ladies get quite the workout. "I think I do over a thousand stairs a night," said Allen. "And I still have to go to the gym!"
In addition, each dancer must go through an audition process every six months. "You have to be at the top of your game," Allen noted.
While the non-stop dancing is the hardest challenge, Allen said the quick wardrobe changes (seven to 11 costumes changes altogether) and make-up applications come naturally. It takes the dancers about 15 minutes to apply their own make-up.
"The longer I take to put on make-up, the worse it looks!" Allen said.
Another important element to the production is the people you rarely see. The stagehand crew contributes a lot to making the show a huge success, staging the props right on time. Some of these gigantic props weigh as much as 8,000 pounds.
"Forty-seven stagehands work every night in a choreographed pattern to change scenic pieces from one look to another," said Matt McNally, stage manager for "Jubilee!" "The longest change takes about eight minutes and the shortest change happens in just a few minutes."
For the Titanic ship (which is an exact replica of the original), it takes nine stagehands to move the ship to the elevators. For easier accessibility, the ship has wheels on the bottom, which help it tilt and slide.
"Precise movement and great communication is needed among the crew to avoid mishaps," he said. "[This way], the cast can do their job and give a fantastic performance for the audience."
An all-around, fantastic production
During your tour, don't be scared to ask questions. Keep in mind that no question is too bizarre for your tour guide. Allen said she's been asked if she ever hosted the backstage tour topless and if she lived in the hotel (for those who are curious, the answer is no to both).
"I've heard everything," she said. "Nothing really embarrasses me anymore."
After experiencing the backstage tour, not only will you leave with a much stronger appreciation for the "Jubilee!," you'll understand why these performers love their jobs as much as they do.
"This is what defines me," said Allen. "This is exactly what I was born to do."
-- Review by Jeannie Borbe