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Harmonizing (and Humanizing) Jubilee!

Director/Choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. injects new life into Jubilee!

Jubilee

Photograph by Jerry Metellus

When director/ choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. agreed to bring a bold, fresh twist to a production that’s stood the test of time—32 years and counting—he knew it would be a challenge. But just days into the job, he was reminded to what extent. “I got a great letter from a fan that read, ‘Don’t you mess this up? It’s one of the only true classics left, Mr. Gatson,’” he says with a laugh as he sits just steps away from the Jubilee! stage inside Bally’s Las Vegas.  

“I think a lot of the creative people have come through [Las Vegas] to get the check. I’m not coming to get the check. I’m coming to modernize Donn Arden’s masterpiece.”

Gatson is no slouch himself. He’s been by Beyoncé’s side for 15 years, guiding her career and developing her iconic dance moves (like the hand gesture from “Single Ladies”). He was nominated for a Grammy for codirecting Beyoncé’s “I am…World Tour”; won a record six MTV Video Music Awards for best choreography; has directed commercials; collaborated on films; and worked with Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Rihanna and Usher.

“I want to make Jubilee! a person. She’s on every billboard. She represents Las Vegas. I’m going to make her a person, and we’re going to tell her story. The show just needs to be adapted to feel more like today. As time progresses, dancers improve— we need to take advantage of that.”

Gatson’s goal is to preserve the show’s main elements. That means the “dream wardrobe” and most of the iconic sets will stay. He’s tinkering with the music, choreography and visuals. “I’ve been brought here to shake it up,” he explains. “This is like
a house. The structure is here.”

Gatson says Jubilee! just needs to enter the digital age. “Technology has brainwashed us. People are seeing things now and they expect more. We need to remix the visuals and rearrange some of the music to have a more energized vibe,” he explains, citing Will.i.am’s song “Bang Bang” from The Great Gatsby as a great way to marry generations of music. “[‘Bang Bang’] feels like you stepped out of the twenties, but it’s today’s music. That was so clever. I want to find something that feels like that for the finale.”