ATLANTIC CITY’S dire financial straits have made it a punching bag for those who believe the town’s glory days are behind it. But don’t count Frank Sinatra Jr. among them.
“I think Atlantic City is coming back,” insisted Sinatra, who plays Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa tonight and tomorrow. “It is Atlantic City that draws people to Atlantic City,” he added, citing those things—the beach, ocean and Boardwalk—that the town’s Pennsylvania-based competition can’t, and never will, claim.
Sinatra is hardly a Frankie-Come-Lately when it comes to his love of the seaside gaming Mecca. He’s been playing there for decades as a headliner; for seven years starting in the late-1980s, he was a frequent visitor in his capacity as his father’s conductor. But, he explained, his ties to AyCee reach back considerably farther.
“When my father was in knee pants, his mother [Dolly] was a politician [in North Jersey],” he said. “She used to have to travel all the time to Atlantic City. She knew [legendary vice czar] Nucky Johnson. She used to tell me about him. She would tell me about the grip he had on that part of the state.”
Today, he continued, Atlantic City is a favorite destination because it remains one of the few places he can afford to perform with a full orchestra. This weekend, he’ll be backed by a 38-piece unit, complete with horn and string sections. That isn’t the case in many other places.
“A lot of [promoters] now are completely gun shy when it comes to” paying for a huge number of backing musicians, he lamented. “But there are a few diehards, like Borgata, that still” are willing to pay the freight.
Not that Sinatra’s repertoire is determined by finances. The basic show—a salute to much of the material most closely identified with late father (who died in May, 1998)—remains intact. How it’s performed is what varies.
“At this moment in time, we have four operational books,” he said. “The first is for a symphony orchestra of 60 pieces [or more]. The second is for a large orchestra of between 35 and 40. The third is for 20 pieces with no strings. And for jazz clubs, we have an octet book—four horns and four rhythm instruments.”
Regardless of how many instruments he’s backed by, Sinatra’s tribute to his immortal father remains the best one out there. That’s because while his voice may not be a clone of his dad’s one-of-a-kind sound, its burnished tones and impeccable phrasing come a lot closer to the original than anything attempted by even the most well-intentioned acolyte.
Sinatra admitted that at age 67, he is finding touring to be more challenging than he once did. “I have to warm up more,” he offered. “And travel takes more out of me than it ever did before.” But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to head out to pasture.
“The [worst] word in the English language is “retirement,” he said. “It is living death.”
As the only son and namesake of arguably the most revered (and, in some cases, reviled) entertainer in history, there’s no question Sinatra could back the truck up to the vault if he’d pen an autobiography. He promised to do just that—one day.
Borrowing a favorite line of his old man’s, Sinatra pledged to write his memoirs “at age 106, one year before I get shot to death by a jealous husband!”
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, One Borgata Way, 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, $35 and $25, 866-900-4948, theborgata.com.