Saturday, September 5, 2015

Two AyCee casinos keep a show biz tradition going

Back in the day, when buses filled with slot-playing seniors would clog Pacific Avenue on weekdays throughout the year, entertainment was a key marketing tool. Whether a truncated version of a Broadway musical, a lavish revusical or mid-level headliner turn, Atlantic City showrooms were usually humming (and singing and dancing) with activity.

Two AyCee casinos keep a show biz tradition going

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Stephen Sorrentino's "Voices in My Head" runs through June 19 at Tropicana Atlantic City. Photo: www.tropicana.net

Back in the day, when buses filled with slot-playing seniors would clog Pacific Avenue on weekdays throughout the year, entertainment was a key marketing tool. Whether a truncated version of a Broadway musical, a lavish revusical or mid-level headliner turn, Atlantic City showrooms were usually humming (and singing and dancing) with activity.

But that was before Pennsylvania cut itself in on the legal casino racket. Today, it’s the loss of that midweek bus business that has, as much as anything, caused the financial crisis down AyCee way which, in turn, has had a negative impact on this kind of entertainment programming.

Nonetheless a couple of gambling dens are still betting on such fare. The result is a pair of breezy, entertaining-enough affairs at Tropicana Atlantic City and Resorts Casino Hotel.

The Trop’s current headliner is musical mimic Stephen Sorrentino, who has brought his “Voices in My Head” program back there for the first time in a number of years.

Backed by eight dancers and a four-piece band, Sorrentino, who runs through June 19, turns in a solid, if not spectacular, effort that plays heavily to Baby Boomers who currently comprise the gaming industry’s most important demographic. And it is within these parameters that he serves up a bit that is not only the show’s best segment, but one of the funniest we’ve seen in any casino production show in quite some time.

The piece in question, which, unfortunately, comes way too early in the set (at least during a recent performance) finds Sorrentino what-iffing Led Zeppelin songs covered by an array of unlikely artists, among them, the exotic “Kashmir” by Willie Nelson; “The Immigrant Song” by Tom Jones; “Black Dog” by Jerry Lewis is full Nutty Professor, “Hey lady!” mode. 

It’s a sharp take on a rather common comedic premise, and it showcases Sorrentino at his best.

In addition to that piece of silliness, Sorrentino also scores with, among other riffs, his lampooning of Dolly Parton and Lady Gaga and a Sonny & Cher turn that takes full advantage of special costuming.

Sorrentino’s mimicry is certainly respectable, but he never really achieves the magic that occurs when vocals and physicality combine to create something special. But he works hard, is appropriately engaging and provides something—celebrity impressions—that appears to be slowly disappearing from the show biz arena.

Boardwalk at Brighton Avenue, Show times vary, $$25 and $20, 800-736-1420, www.ticketmaster.com.

Far more modestly budgeted and less-ambitious is “A Tribute to the Ivory Kings,” which runs through May 10 at Resorts.

The one-man musicale starring New Zealander Darin MacDonald is a quickly paced rundown of songs by several singer-songwriters known not only for their tunes, but for performing them while tickling the 88s.

Playing to faithfully rendered, recorded backing tracks, and ping-ponging between a grand piano and a digital keyboard, MacDonald ably pays homage to Elton John, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow and, to a lesser degree, several others including Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis.

“Ivory Kings” can’t help but please because of its can’t-miss set list: “Honky Cat,” “Piano Man,” “Copacabana,” “Georgia On My Mind” and “Great Balls of Fire” are just five of the many chart-toppers performed by MacDonald.

MacDonald sticks pretty much to the blueprints; he’s not what you’d call an “interpreter” of pop music. But he has a strong, nimble voice that does the material justice. That said, he is vocally closest to Elton John. So much so that we’d like to see him forego the other “Ivory Kings” and just devote his talents to an Elton tribute show.

Boardwalk at North Carolina Avenue, 3:30 and 8 p.m. Wednesday and May 9, 3:30 p.m. Thursday and May 10, 3:30 p.m. $25, Boardwalk at Brighton Avenue, Show times vary, $$25 and $20, 800-736-1420, www.ticketmaster.com.

The art of Wood

Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Wood may have checked out of Golden Nugget after his solo gig there last Saturday, but he’s left a piece of himself—make that lots of pieces.

While on property, Wood presided over the opening of an exhibition of art work--paintings, drawings and limited edition prints—from his “Symbolic Collection.” A formally trained and critically acclaimed visual artist, Wood specializes in (not surprisingly) rock ’n’ roll images, more than two dozen of which are on display—and sale—through the summer. The gallery is located on the mezzanine level above the entrance to the Chart House restaurant.

Big deal at Borgata

Congratulations are in order for Jia Liu, who earlier this week won the 2012 Borgata Spring Poker Open Champion. The 25 year-old Brooklynite used his no-limit Texas Hold’em skills (and no doubt, a heaping helping of good, old fashioned luck) to pocket $312,483 and the championship trophy. 

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About this blog
Philly native Chuck Darrow has literally covered Atlantic City’s casino scene since Day One: He was there on assignment the night in November 1976 when voters approved legalized casinos.

Since then, Chuck has covered the town and its gaming industry for several area newspapers -- which is why, in some circles, he’s known as “Boardwalk Charlie.”

You can reach Chuck at darrowc@phillynews.com. Reach Chuck at darrowc@phillynews.com.

Chuck Darrow