The guy next to me is sipping a whiskey-and-something from a tall, garish novelty mug decorated with a pair of costumed showgirls. He’s wearing stylish tortoise-shell glasses and a red sweater tied loosely around his neck. The only thing button-down about this guy is his dress shirt.
He’s Lee Roy Reams, and boy, does he love Jubilee.
“We are like groupies, honestly,” Reams beams during a 10:30 (and topless) p.m. weeknight showing of the 25-year-old production at Bally’s. “We,” in this context, are the 50 or so members of The Producers cast who make monthly pilgrimages – if traipsing down the long pedestrian tunnel connecting Paris Las Vegas to Bally’s can be called a pilgrimage – to take in a 10:30 showing of Jubilee. The flamboyant Reams, a Tony Award-nominated Broadway veteran, portrays the similarly flamboyant Roger DeBris in the Vegas version of The Producers. As a way of forging solidarity among the performers (and to educate a few of the younger members about whence they came), Reams began organizing the group outings in May, soon after he replaced David Hasselhoff in the Vegas production. The Jubilee cast is always aware of the ardent gaiety the Producers crew brings to the late shows and frequently grins and wink their inch-long eyelashes to the audience.
“They love us!” Reams calls out.
Also seated at our booth are Producers cast members Larry Raben (Leo Bloom), Rich Affannato (Carmen Ghia) and Katrina Loncaric, who is in the production’s ensemble and understudies the role of Ulla, usually performed by the stunning (at least, she stuns me) Leigh Zimmerman. Across the room, arriving late amid a small entourage, is Producers co-lead Tony Danza. He whizzes past, wearing a baseball hat low over his face to show that he is someone famous – we just can’t decipher exactly who.
At our table, Loncaric’s presence is crucial because she was once a member of the Jubilee cast. She knows most members of the cast, which numbers about 80, and is quick with triviata. Loncaric’s own story of how she happened into the show is fairly remarkable. She was performing a number of odd jobs while pursuing her show-business dream in Los Angeles; she once worked as a temp at the Mattel Factory in El Segundo, California, specializing in hair design.
“Barbie looks kind of like a showgirl,” I say, to which Katrina responds, “She did after I got through with her.”
Loncaric leads the group dialogue, which at times reminds of a play-by-play during an NFL game. Sipping a $13 Diet Pepsi in the tall ceramic mug that I was coerced into buying by an overzealous Reams, we observe Old Vegas in action. Some of the more notable quotables:
Lee Roy: “We LOVE this show because there are no other shows like it. It’s a throwback to a completely different era. And they don’t allow any augmentation, whatsoever.”
Me: “You mean …”
Lee Roy: “NO fake boobs. You can tell by looking at them. They are all natural!”
Katrina: “When I was in the show they did an examination to make sure you were natural. It was one of the requirements, yeast.”
Lee Roy, as the curtain rises for the song Girls, Girls, Girls: “Whoa! Here we go!” And he sings along. By the end of the evening my left ear will be ringing because of Reams’ over-modulating.
Larry, during the song Running Wild, during which the cast is decked out in black-and-yellow sequins, the women in tall headdresses that weight 35 pounds: “This is the best number in the show! It’s a disco-rama! Oh lay!”
Lee Roy, during an appearance by the show’s gymnastic duo, the Long Twins: “These guys are real estate agents in real life. Seriously. “
Me: “Wow, the market must REALLY be down!” The table laughs and I feel I am making new friends.
Lee Roy, as the show’s lead, Marlene, staggers around the stage, drunk, during the Grand Processional scene: “THIS is the best part of the show! Marlene is the best, just the best!”
Rich, as the Titanic scene opens: “Larry! Larry! New costumes!”
Larry: “Look at the choreography at the back of the stage! It’s superb!” He’s referring to the hardly noticed but perfectly synched flair bartenders tucked away at the back of the scene, spinning and flinging martini shakers. “This is what you notice after a dozen shows!”
Rich: “You should see your face!” He’s referring to me as lifeboats carrying the “survivors” of the Titanic glide across the stage.
Lee Roy: “The game here is to guess how many mannequins are in that boat.”
Me (counting): “Three?”
Lee Roy: “No! Six! Six!”
Katrina, as one of the showgirls cruises across the stage in a costume that looks like a cage: “That dress is called, ‘The Cage.’ ”
Richard, as the curtain begins to drop during the final number: “This is Marlene, right here! She will give you face! This is what it’s all about, right here!”
The table rises and Marlene looks across the audience. Group is howling approval, and she tilts her head in our direction. I think that was a wink.