Beyoncé’s Choreographer Strikes a Pose: Frank Gatson Set to Turn Bally’s Las Vegas Show “Jubilee!” On Its Heels
The last remaining old Vegas showgirl revue and longest-running Strip show, “Jubilee!,” is ruffling its feathers after 32 years on stage. It was just announced today that the beloved musical production is getting a revamp courtesy of choreographer-to-the-stars Frank Gatson. Expect a bold revitalization on the glittering production show when it re-opens in early 2014. While the iconic costumes and the original sets (which are still used today) will remain, Gatson will add a contemporary flair to the staging, music and choreography.
Aside from working with Michael Jackson, En Vogue, The Band Perry, Usher and Brandy, Gatson is best known as the right-hand dance man to mega star Beyoncé, and has choreographed many of her biggest moments, including the “Single Ladies” video, this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show performance and her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.
“Frank has played an important role in my success and I know he will do the same for “Jubilee!,” says Beyoncé. “His unique style and creativity is legendary and “Jubilee!” couldn’t have picked a better creative director. When it comes to combining flavors of the past with a fresh, modern twist, no one does it better than Frank.”
Gatson, who got his career break as a backup dancer in Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” video, is a longtime lover of timeless movie musicals and old Hollywood’s brightest singing and dancing talents. Much of his dance style is influenced by these (think “West Side Story,” “Chicago” and “Dreamgirls”) and he’s known for combining modern moves with distinguished classic steps.
How would you describe your signature style of dance and movement?
I grew up so in love with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers…but Frank Gatson loves classic meets what’s happening now and country-fried chicken.
What does a showgirl revue mean to you?
One of my favorite musicals is “Dreamgirls.” That changed my life. It was in 1986, when I was in New York studying at the Broadway Dance Center and I went to see the show. What’s so great about “Dreamgirls” is it’s the ultimate showgirl. It’s all about the bevel, a certain dance step. In “Dreamgirls” every step was a bevel and I’m pretty sure Michael Peters and Michael Bennett were inspired by showgirls. One of the first things I want to do is look at is changing the heel height. They have on what I call training pumps. They need to be higher and that makes it sexier already. A showgirl revue also means a good posture. When we cast dancers for Beyoncé, she wants a star. We always argue about this thing that you can’t teach, that “it thing.” A showgirl has to possess that, where she can just stand there and demand the audience. And if she lifts her arm, it’s just magic. That’s what a showgirl is to me. My favorite two girls are the twins in the Titanic scene in “Jubilee!” They are the showgirls that I see in the show in the 10 times I have seen it. I love the wardrobe, too.
You have this signature style of dancing, your tours with Beyoncé, music videos, six MTV Video Music Awards for Best Choreography and all these other projects, and then you have this old school revue you’re doing at the other end of the spectrum. Why agree to this project?
It’s everything that I am. My dream is to direct and bring the movie musical back. Music videos are little mini musicals. I think like Michael Peters and George Faison, who did “The Wiz,” and Gene Kelly and I think like a dancer. When I first met Beyoncé I said, “she’s going to be like Michael Jackson” but people called me stupid and crazy. Remember the scene in “Smooth Criminal” where Michael dances with the girl in the red dress? That is inspired by Cyd Charisse in the movie “Bandwagon.” Michael took that concept and put it into “Smooth Criminal.” My love for that is to take that and modernize it. That movement still stands good today. It’s really about the dancer and the music. “Jubilee!” is definitely like an old-style musical that’s just like how I see it in my head when I watch old MGM movies. My dream is just about to come true. We want to make the classics better.
Is “Jubilee!” also appealing to you because it’s totally different than something you’ve done?
Well I got to do Super Bowl and I had 135 dancers but it was only a 12-minute number. And I got to do pageants. I came here recently and did the 2011 Billboard Awards for “Run the World (Girls)” and because Beyoncé wants to always empower women, that to me was a showgirl number. Beyoncé has allowed me to live my showgirl fantasy. Doing “Jubilee!” here fills my dream, and setting up the movie musical to come back. I love a dancer that is professionally trained and most of the girls in the show seem like they have had a lot of ballet training.
What is your vision for the show?
I want a standing ovation right away; there’s a feeling I want. Beyoncé has a song called “Love on Top.” The way that song makes you feel—the audience just parties and they sing. She says to start snapping and the whole place is snapping. I want to do that. It feels like we got married, like we’re at a family picnic. It feels like you’re in your car, the wind is blowing in your hair, you look good. That’s what I want. That’s what musicals used to do. I want a feeling to occur. I think performance and making the audience feel, it’s something we have to do as people who create the show and dancers and singers who sing the show. They’ve got to give and I know that’s my gift—to see honesty.
How are you going to keep the Vegas showgirl aspect to “Jubilee!” while modernizing it with your style and moves?
Because I know Deena from “Dreamgirls”—me and her and the bevel dance move. That’s all it is, is about being pulled up and giving yourself to the audience.
Are you re-casting the whole show?
I’m going to have a master class with the whole cast and teach them a style and see who loves it and see who gets it. Then we may audition other people, but we are giving the cast first bids at it. It may just be turning on a button in some of them.
Are you keeping the same number of dancers?
I would like to keep as many of the current cast as possible. Also, we are trying to bring some LED technology into it. Technology can make it look like we have a thousand dancers on stage when there is really only 100. The “Jubilee!” theater is so great because you can get a true blackout so we can probably do some really interesting things.
How big of an overhaul are we talking about?
I love the Titanic number but I think the technology of it has to be investigated. Then it also doesn’t end right to me. As amazing as that number is supposed to be, you should get a standing ovation right there. I also want to make “Jubilee!” a person. She’s a girl, she’s the ultimate showgirl. Maybe in some way they take away her powers and she gains them back. I feel like a little story needs to be told.
What does Beyoncé think about you doing this show?
She loves it, she is excited. She is definitely supportive and she gets it. If she’s available she will be here for the premiere. She is like a little sister, I’ve known her 15 years.